Do We Need More Business, or Better Business, to Feed a Growing Population?

by Rebecca Lucas and Emmy Moore

To create a world that can feed 9 billion people by 2030 while providing clean water access, ensuring equal access to education across gender, and supporting renewable and safe energy, do we need to establish new and profitable business models? Or do we simply need to adjust business as usual?

A giant social experiment took place in August. One thousand people from 129 countries. Ten days. Nine Danish folk high schools. All to formulate solutions to address the United Nation’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that had been condensed to seven major themes: food, energy, water, sustainable production and consumption, education and information and communications technology (ICT), urban sustainability, and health.  After a week, 199 pitches of innovative solutions had been created by groups of people who had only just met at the start of the experiment.

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab, created with the intention of bringing together “talents,” aged 20-35, from all over the world to innovate on the UN’s SDGs and develop new businesses, new ideas, and new ways to achieve these objectives. The long term goal is to continue this program every year until 2030, banking on the probability that at least a few new and creative solutions will successfully emerge. Six individuals from the Friedman School were selected to be part of this inaugural year; while at times it was clear we were guinea pigs with similar frustrations, we were also immersed in an entirely unique and novel experience.

The setting is Denmark: known for clean design, universal health care, paid parental leave, and above all, a high per capita income. This makes for an interesting contrast when working on problems that are facing the world as a whole, yet many that disproportionately impact developing countries.

The first few days all 1,000 of us gathered in dichotomous venues; post-industrial sites, like locomotive storage, and prospects of the future, like Copenhagen City Hall. We were showered with inspirational words from a variety of sectors within Denmark, meant to invigorate us with direction of technology and what is possible today that was not ten years ago. But many of us were left wondering what these futuristic notions had to do with the issues we were at UNLEASH to tackle today.

After two days of corralling 1,000 millennials around Copenhagen, we were divided into our SDG themes and shipped to folk high schools. The Danish Folk High School feels like an adult summer camp but is so much more: individuals who want to learn anything left out of standard school settings, including banjo playing or poetry, can attend throughout their life for different lengths of time. Ry Folkskole, where half of the food-theme group resided, was on a lake and focused on music, theatre, and canoeing. It had a principal who told us the mission was to remind its students that there is more to life than business—there is life. An interesting juxtaposition when we were there with the objective of intensively creating business proposals.

After a morning assembly of singing and three rounds of problem framing on the first day at the high schools, we were divided into our teams that would ultimately produce the final pitch, loosely based on 20 “insights” that had been distilled from each participant’s application.

This was where the social experiment almost felt absurd at times: thrown together with people we had just met, we were meant to come up with a business plan on a clearly defined, singular problem with an explainable and innovative solution in less than four days. This process of problem framing with elegant solutions did not fit neatly with the SDGs and broader issues many of us initially gathered at UNLEASH to grapple with.

Sustainable Development Goal number two: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. It is a grand goal and for many reasons it can seem unachievable. Yet here we were, meant to come up with some thing, some product, some idea that was pitch-able to investors. So, the question kept surfacing: is what we need to achieve zero hunger something that is pitch-able? Is what we need to feed nine billion people by 2030 something that can make a profit? Is focusing on the creation of new apps what will address inequity of food access currently? Is the future of sustainability as discussed in this context applicable to the rest of the world?

Perhaps what is needed to address global hunger and improve food security is a paradigm shift, a major change in the way we view development and how development actually lands on the ground, plants its roots, and continues to grow. This isn’t innovative and yet it may just be something that could work if pursued on this type of platform, with these 1,000 people involved who are excited and ready.

The only problem is; this isn’t necessarily a business proposition. We couldn’t exactly prototype a development model with Legos and pitch it to investors and experts present on our panel of judges. Is UNLEASH’s answer to the SDGs the creation of more start-ups? Or is the answer just doing what we do now, but doing it better? Can it be both? Maybe we can innovate by renovating our existing business models to incorporate the objectives and indicators of the SDGs while also creating new business.

The goal of UNLEASH was not to achieve a paradigm shift in ten days. It aimed to build connections and support future projects and collaboration. The event introduced people from 129 countries to each other and reminded us that we have a shared desire. To gather 1,000 people together who want to make this world a little bit better has much larger implications and reverberations than any business pitch could generate. The paradigm shift is coming.

You can read more about some of the solutions that won prizes here.

Emmy Moore is a second year MS candidate in the Agriculture, Food, & Environment program. Her academic interests include agriculture policy, water resource management, and systems modeling. She likes playing with her cat Pin and road trips. Before joining Friedman she ran a business in California making pickles and jams.

Rebecca Lucas is a second year Agriculture Food & Environment/Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning dual degree student and changes her mind monthly as to her primary focus while in graduate school. Right now it’s all about community engagement and farm to institution work. Hailing originally from the central coast of California, she is still trying to understand how life still functions when it snows and the difference between a “winter” coat and just a coat.

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Candy-Ween

by Hannah Meier

Dressing up, carving pumpkins, ringing doorbells, staying up late, gorging on candy. Halloween traditions are well-beloved in the United States, and reminisced upon fondly by even the most educated nutrition students in the Boston area. But with sugar in the spotlight of contemporary public health interventions, is it time to reconsider our chocolate-coated hallows ‘eve habit?

Hannah and her younger brother Adam in matching, handmade leopard costumes

I liked to sort my candy by type, color, and preference. Each Halloween, I would make my rounds to every house with lights on in my suburban Minnesota neighborhood. I’d ring countless doorbells and gleefully chant, “trick or treat!” alongside my costumed friends, while grown-ups scooped candy by the handful into our open pillowcases. I would relish the end of the night, coming home and dumping the pounds of fresh candy onto a wide space of open floor, sorting the Milk Duds (a personal favorite) into their own pile and relegating Now & Laters, Licorice and Butterfingers into the pile of not-so-greats that I’d probably try to trade for more Milk Duds from my brother later.

The dumping and sorting of Halloween candy was a well-loved tradition

For me, candy was a given on Halloween. Sure, there were houses that we’d visit that would hand out fruit snacks or granola bars, and I usually ended up with at least one toothbrush. But these “treats” held hardly as much excitement. My parents allowed my brother and I to keep all our candy, but we were normally held to 2-3 pieces as treats per day, max.

Fast forward 20 or so years, and I not only survived 10 years of tick-or-treating in good health, I’m now in a position of relative influence in the world of nutrition. I’ve learned enough about food to know that candy provides little more to our bodies’ cells than some quick energy and easy calories. Some would argue there are properties within candy, like added sugar, that are harmful to our bodies. I would argue that most people have nothing to worry about if candy is left as a once-in-a-while food (even a once-a-day treat). Looking at the bigger picture of overall diet is more telling. Even though most candy contains negligible amounts of micronutrients, will our bodies really know whether we ate two Snickers® fun size® bars or a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabar®, give or take a few grams of fiber? I do not have an answer to that question, but I can tell you, without a doubt, that my mother would not have payed twice the price for pulverized cashews and dates.

used for comparison based on weight and likelihood of use as a Halloween candy

Now, I’m not anti-Larabar®, and recognize that if we were to compare ingredient lists, one would be a clear winner. Of course, I’m not comparing a Snickers® bar to an apple, a bag of trail mix, or popcorn—all options that would clearly be less-processed, more wholesome snacks. I’m comparing a Snickers® bar to a reasonable cousin—one that also provides the satisfaction of unwrapping a crinkly wrapper—yet happens to be expensive and out of reach for most. It’s worth taking a step back and considering whether the battle to promote “healthier” Halloween treats really holds up – we shouldn’t be relying on candy or snack bars like Larabar® for micronutrients, anyway.

Still, it’s hard to find the Halloween candy tradition benign when considering our current food environment, which makes eating large portions of highly processed foods in a fairly mindless way all too convenient and affordable every day. Holiday traditions put a spotlight on food industry favorites, and Halloween is the king of them all. Unlike food traditions surrounding holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah, Halloween is all about the candy.

Trick-or-treating and candy-giving on Halloween rolled out in the United States as a fully-fledged tradition in the 1950s, alongside Wonderbread® and CocaCola®. Packaged candy was cemented as a Halloween staple during the 70’s when folks feared razor blades in apples, Samira Kawash suggests in a 2010 article in The Atlantic. Since then, Americans have taken hold of the sugar habit, purchasing upwards of 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween, and 90 million pounds of chocolate during the week of Halloween alone according to a Neilsen report from 2009. That’s about one pound and 3.2 ounces of chocolate per child in the United States purchased in one week.

Talk about added sugar.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, along with proposed updates to the FDA Nutrition Facts Panel, pinpoint 50 grams of added sugar as the suggested daily intake for an average adult based on a 2000 Calorie diet pattern. One pound and 3.2 ounces of milk chocolate contains about 543 grams of sugar, which averages out to over 75 grams of sugar per day if consumed in one week. And that’s just chocolate—add in sugar from other foods like yogurt, baked goods, sauces and dressings, and the scales are tipped firmly in the direction of “excess.”

So, what are we supposed to do about it?

According to an informal survey of Friedman students, a majority (64%) believe that handing out Halloween candy neither helps nor hurts public health nutrition policy, and only 55% do not believe it is our responsibility as nutrition professionals to shift our current candy-centric Halloween culture.

“Holidays are unique and have anticipated traditions that vary by family and culture,” one Friedman student responded. America just happens to have a love affair with sugar on Halloween.

But of course, Halloween candy is not the only thing contributing to chronic disease. Another student argued, “Blaming candy is like saying if we want to prevent house fires we should outlaw matches.”

Moderation was a signature theme of survey responses. “Every holiday doesn’t require candy and sweets, but it provides a good opportunity to discuss with children the importance of moderation and sharing,” one student suggested.

While I agree that moderation is a key message, and that foods like candy (or ice cream, or brownies) can indeed be incorporated into an overall health-promoting diet when approached without guilt or stress, does fixating on treats at holidays like Halloween (and Christmas, and Easter, and Valentine’s Day) really send that message? Would we be so obsessed with candy on Halloween if we weren’t constantly trying to avoid it the rest of the year?

To help make your decision—will you or won’t you participate in passing out candy to kids this Halloween?—let’s refer to my favorite decision-making tool: the Pros vs. Cons list.

 

PROS

CONS
Candy is cheap, usually on sale, and comes in many varieties Look at the ingredients list… if you dare
But chocolate has antioxidants, right? Have you ever babysat a kid who ate candy for dinner?
Dentists need more business, it’s good for the economy. Candy may be cheap, but fillings are expensive.
More likely to be viewed as a “cool house” for handing out candy. If no one comes to your door, you can wear pajamas and go to bed early.
Leftover candy

Leftover candy

 

While over 95% of Friedman students surveyed enjoy eating candy on Halloween, only 53% of them plan to hand out sweet treats to costumed kiddos this year. Most who aren’t participating in the tradition reported not having Trick-or-Treaters stepping up to their doors. Others said they would be handing out granola bars, nuts (allergies are a whole other topic worth considering on Halloween), or non-food items like stickers.

Most folks passing out candy are going with fun size bars or “whatever’s cheapest.” My building is one that will likely not be visited by young tricksters looking for treats, but if it were, I’d pick up a big bag of fun size pretzel M&Ms® (because they offer the best of both worlds) and ask every kid their name. Like one insightful second-year student added “Halloween is a great opportunity to get to know neighbors and give personal attention to your community.”

Thanks to all the Friedman students and alumni who filled out the unofficial survey and offered thoughtful and creative responses! It’s clear we can improve our Halloween traditions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to do away with candy altogether.

*Statistics based on a voluntary Facebook-linked google survey of 45 Friedman students and alumni in September, 2107

Hannah Meier is a registered dietitian, second-year Nutrition Communications student, foodie, and festivity nerd. She believes in the power of food as both an instrument for health and community, and strives to make nourishing options as accessible and convenient as possible for all. You can find her on Instagram @abalancedpaceRD and Twitter @hannahrosemeier.

My(Policy)Plate: What Presidential Candidates Bring to the Table on Ag and Nutrition Issues

by Katie Moses

Election Day is just a few days away. What do our presidential candidates have to say about food and agriculture? Katie Moses takes a look at the issues.

Food: 0

Nutrition: 0

Agriculture: 1

This is the number of times the major party candidates stated these words in the three 2016 presidential debates. Even though the cultural conversation around food and agriculture seems to grow louder every day, the only reference in the debates was by Hillary Clinton when discussing the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti. Why? Not one of the 70 unique questions asked in the three 2016 presidential debates were about nutrition or agricultural policy.

This doesn’t mean the presidential candidates and their parties have been completely silent on nutrition and agriculture issues. Other sources such as campaign websites, representatives and whom they seek council from can fill in some of the blanks regarding where the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates stand on issues that relate to the future of food and nutrition. Continue reading to learn where they land on the issues you care about.

Farm Bill and Snap Benefits

Programs in the farm bill protect farmers, ranchers, and consumers by helping American farms keep growing, ensuring a robust and affordable food supply, and providing food assistance for insecure populations. Where do candidates stand on protecting these programs?

hillary

 

Clinton: The 2016 DNC platform states that “proven programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—our nation’s most important anti-hunger program—help struggling families put food on the table.” At the October 19th Farm Foundation Forum, Kathleen Merrigan, acting as a surrogate for the Clinton campaign, confirmed that Clinton aligned with the DNC on the importance of agriculture and nutrition programs remaining under the umbrella of the farm bill. Additionally, Clinton’s “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” advocates for expanding “SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food” as a part of building strong local and regional food systems.

trump

 

Trump: In Donald J. Trump’s vision for the US economy, the increase in SNAP participation during the Obama administration is listed as a key issue, but his vision for the economy does not making recommendations to change the SNAP program. At the October 19th Farm Foundation Forum, Sam Clovis, Trump’s lead adviser on agriculture policy, provided clarity on Trumps stance on SNAP benefits advocating that the way to reduce nutrition spending is to promote economic growth that will put more people to work, rather than cutting the budgets of these programs. Clovis stated that Trump would not advocate for the removal of nutrition programs from the Farm Bill. Trump campaign representative’s statement clashes with the Republican Party Platform 2016 that recommended separating SNAP from the Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bill.

Local and Regional Food Systems

Will local and regional food systems thrive or waiver in these candidates administration?

hillary

 

Clinton: As a New York Senator, Clinton partnered with Foodlink and others for a Farm to Fork initiative that helps distribute locally grown produce in rural counties to the state’s regional centers. “Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” fact sheet breaks down four key focus areas for strengthening rural America. Under “raising agricultural production and profitability for family farms,” Hillary lays out a plan for building a strong local and regional food system as a continuation of her Farm to Fork initiative as a Senator. She proposes “doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets, SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food, and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.”

trump

 

Trump: On the campaign trail in Iowa, the Associated Press reports that  Donald Trump called family farms the “backbone” of America and promised to cut taxes on these smaller farms. His platform does not address regional and local food systems directly. While Trump shines a spotlight on small farms on the campaign trail, his recently announced agricultural advisory committee is composed of big players and advocates for the industrial agriculture. Whether local and regional food systems will thrive in a Trump administration is not foreseen, but his advisory committee illustrates that big ag will always have a seat at his table.

Agricultural Animal Rights

After selecting their choice for the next president, Massachusetts voters will be asked where they stand on the new proposed standards for farm animal confinement. Supporters of question three on the Massachusetts ballot argue that the proposed guidelines for raising animals should be the minimal ethical standard in food production and will help promote similar legislation in other states. Opponents argue that question three would raise the cost of eggs and pork, negatively affecting taxpayer-funded assistance programs and low-income individuals and families. While neither candidate is a registered Massachusetts voter, this is what they’ve said about the underlying issue.

hillary

 

Clinton has an entire section of her platform devoted to protecting animals and wildlife: “As president, Hillary will… protect farm animals from inhumane treatment by encouraging farms to raise animals humanely.” While she hasn’t made a statement on the risk of increased food prices, the former Secretary of State takes a clear aspirational stand on improving conditions for farm animals.

trump

 

Trump: The republican presidential candidate does not address farm animals in his political platform. With the announcement of his agricultural advisory committee and candidates for Secretary of the Interior, many have analyzed what his approach to farm policy would be and have concluded that legislation like the proposed measure in Massachusetts to improve farm animal welfare would not be approved on his desk.

For more on the candidates’ stances on the concerns of farmers and ranchers, see this post from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Katie Moses is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist born and bred in the heart of Cajun country. With Sicilian, Syrian, and Cajun-French grandparents, she’s had a unique culinary upbringing, and finds ways to adapt traditional dishes to fit current nutrition recommendations. Outside of the teaching kitchen, Katie is a first year Nutrition Intervention, Communication, and Behavior Change student and a passionate advocate for expanding access to dietitians’ nutrition counseling services.

Movie Review: Food Chains

by Rebecca Boehm and Rebecca Rottapel

From the filmmakers of Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation, this new documentary portrays the struggles of U.S. farm workers who experience conditions from slavery and low-wages to sexual harassment and total lack of legal power. The film focuses on the efforts of tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida to petition big food suppliers to pay one more penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Food Chains provides a good first look at these important and underreported issues in America.

In the opening scene of Food Chains we are introduced to Immokalee, Florida, a sparsely populated, rural town where people ride their bikes and push strollers in the streets past dilapidated stucco buildings and chain link fences. We meet Lucas Benitez, a farm worker who explains the importance of the farm industry in Immokalee and the plight of the average farm worker there. The scene cuts to a rundown trailer where a group of workers and their families live. Benito Garcia, his wife Carmela and their child are getting ready for work at 4:30 am. Carmela fills a Powerade bottle with milk, packs her son’s lunch into a plastic shopping bag, and hands her son off to Benito. Carmela says to Benito as he walks out the door with their son, “Hurry back so you don’t miss the bus.” Benito pushes his son along the predawn streets of Immokalee to get his son to the babysitter just in time to catch the bus to the tomato fields.

FoodChainsTheatricalPoster-e1409496194559

This opening scene is striking because it provides us a glimpse into the daily life of the average Immokalee farm worker. The living conditions that they endure should pull the heartstrings of any person watching the film. The average American consumer may never have considered the living and working conditions of the person that harvests their food, and this scene alone would be a learning experience.

Hereafter, Food Chains’ thesis is clear: poor working conditions and low pay that U.S. farm workers experience result directly from the downward pressure on food costs exerted by the food retail sector. First-time feature film director Sanjay Rawal and executive producers Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser have crafted a solid documentary that summarizes why this downward pressure occurs and how it can be remedied so that the standard of living of farm workers can be improved without affecting the price consumers pay for their food.

The film strongly places the burden of the problem, and rightly so, on U.S. grocery stores and supermarkets that exert tremendous market power over the prices that farmers receive for their products. Over the last few decades there has been significant consolidation in this sector, which is most obvious with the emergence of Walmart as a major food retailer. Standard economic theory would confirm that the oligopolistic nature of the supermarket industry does lower the prices farmers can receive for their goods. The film demonstrates this economic theory with a specific example in Publix, one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S., headquartered in Florida. Publix is also the primary target of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) most recent campaign to increase the wage of tomato pickers by a penny per pound.

CIW has already waged campaigns against fast food companies using the same penny-per-pound strategy with great success. Publix, however, seems to be unflinching in its unwillingness to agree to the terms of the CIW campaign for completely unknown reasons. In the film, we see CIW organize a seven-day hunger strike at the Publix Headquarters in Lakeland, Florida, which is just a two-hour drive from Immokalee. Publix allows the strike to continue on its property with only the occasional police or private security intervention. Employees of the company come out to eat lunch on picnic benches just feet away from the strike.

The hunger strike quickly becomes the focus of the film, and as it progresses one cannot help but think about the broader debate currently stirring in the U.S. about the effectiveness of public protests. CIW is a seasoned organization that knows how to utilize protests as an effective tool for promoting social change; it may have employed the hunger strike seen in Food Chains to appeal to middle-aged consumers who remember the hunger strike led by United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez in 1968. Food Chains captures a peaceful and organized protest taking place on the front lawn of Publix without much excitement or controversy. For the average American, seeing this type of protest may be refreshing and encouraging.

Food Chains should be commended for addressing such an important social justice issue occurring in the food system, and it is one that many food-focused documentaries have for some reason ignored until now. However, the film could have accomplished its job with a bit more depth on the broader policy issues that got us to this point in the first place. The dearth of economic safety nets provided for poor Americans, our completely outdated and dysfunctional immigration policy (including policies for migrant farm workers from Mexico), lack of oversight and enforcement of pesticide regulation, and racism and oppression are all broader societal issues that contribute to the struggles of U.S. farm workers. Yet these issues, especially immigration, are hardly mentioned in Food Chains.

In particular, immigration policy is a key factor in the plight of U.S. farm workers that is touched upon briefly in the film. It is striking to recognize that CIW focuses its campaigns on private companies because many of the workers they represent are undocumented immigrants, making policy advocacy to federal and state governments virtually impossible. The total powerlessness of people who pick our food should be unimaginable in America, yet the film never makes this argument strongly. Similarly, the film could have addressed the serious problem of how volatile food prices could potentially become given lack of government oversight of migrant labor. Food Chains may have avoided these more controversial topics in order to remain accessible and credible for a broad audience.

If the goal of Food Chains is to educate the completely uninformed U.S. food consumer, then it will have done yeoman’s work. But for those of us who are more informed on these issues, we are left wanting a more detailed and investigative story about how injustices like those faced by the Immokalee workers continue to occur. For us, the story of the modern day farm worker seems unthinkable. And we say to ourselves, “Really? It’s 2015.”

Join the Friedman Justice League for a screening of Food Chains followed by an expert panel discussion.  The event will be held on February 5 from 6:30-8:30 pm at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in ASEAN Auditorium (160 Packard Ave, Medford, MA). While admission is free, we are asking for a $5 donation to go toward the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Food Chain Workers Alliance. Tickets are available at http://foodchains-fjl.brownpapertickets.com.

Rebecca Boehm is a PhD Candidate in the Agriculture Food and Environment (AFE) program and a long-time member of the Friedman Justice League. Rebecca Rottapel is a first-year MS student in the AFE program. She is also a member of the Justice League and is excited to keep learning about mechanisms to improve social justice and equity in our food system!