Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Our Food System Isn't Perfect But It Isn't Broken

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 World Food Prize and participate as the U.S. Delegate to the Global Farmer Roundtable. It was a discussion full of similarities and issues in agriculture from 14 farmers attending from around the world.

Following the World Food Prize, I headed to Chicago to attend "FNCE" the annual Food and Nutrition Convention & Expo of the Academy of Food and Nutrition. I was moderating a panel on genetic engineering and sustainable agriculture.

It was a contrast that left me contemplating how we got to such divergence in who has access to food and whether or not global hunger has truly been "solved". I tweeted up a storm following a presentation by Kimbal Musk because that is one statement he made, that we had solved global hunger and now needed to nourish people. Having been in sessions and discussions at the World Food Prize where the focus was on solving why 1 in 4 children are stunted or why 500,000 children go blind each year due to Vitamin A deficiency,  I knew what Mr. Musk asserted was at best out of touch and at worst, privileged ignorance.

I've been asked to share my opening remarks to the FNCE panel I moderated. It is focused toward dietitians, the attendees of FNCE.

"Good afternoon and welcome to the Future of Food: Biotechnology and Sustainable Agriculture. My name is Jennie Schmidt, a full time farmer from Maryland growing corn, high Oleic soybeans, tofu soybeans, winegrapes, wheat, barley, green beans and canning tomatoes. I describe our farm as a grocery store farm - we grow the ingredients you buy in products at the grocery store. Im also a former practicing clinical dietitian and am excited to have been asked to moderate this esteemed panel.

"We have had numerous sessions on food, agriculture,  and sustainability the past few days and I want to open with some comments from my perspective.

"I came to FNCE directly from having attended a week long program at the World Food Prize and watched Dr. Akin Adesina from Nigeria become the 2017 World Food Prize laureate, what is considered to be the Nobel Prize in food and agriculture. I was honored to have been asked to be the U.S. Delegate to the Global Farmer Roundtable at the World Food Prize. Our roundtable consensus definition of sustainable agriculture was "Safe food that protects our natural resources and reduces our environmental impact." Most farmers strive for this every day.

"The South African farmer delegate share a perspective you need to hear. He said "I have been fighting my whole life for the right to eat." Can you imagine? Most of us expect that food is a given, a human right,  not something we need to fight for. We often neglect to appreciate how fortunate we are.

"We have not solved global hunger. One in four children around the world are stunted due to chronic under nourishment and malnutrition. Half a million children go blind annually due to Vitamin A deficiency. Children who are fighting for the right to eat.

"Several speakers at FNCE have stated that we need to move from a food system that simply feeds people to a system that nourishes them.  I would submit to you that unless in your nutrition practice you have been treating people for pellegra, rickets, beri beri, kwashiorkor, or even goiter, our system HAS nourished people and WE have lost sight of 1) how resilient our food system has been and 2) how far our food system has come.

"I would say our food system isn't perfect, but it is far from broken. We do not fight for the right to eat. We eat from a place of privilege.

"And from that perspective, I hope you absorb (pun intended) what today's presentations offer, the importance of technology in food and agriculture to continue to move our food system along the sustainability continuum."