To Feed the World, Placing our Eggs in Multiple Baskets

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By Janeen Madan

The Atlantic’s Food Summit held in Washington, D.C. brought together a wide range of agricultural experts, corporate executives, and government officials, many of whom shared different—and often opposing—views about the future of food and farming.

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There are a number of initiatives underway to improve access to fresh and affordable foods. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Delivering the keynote address, Kathleen Merrigan, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, touched upon the challenges that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is facing as pressure for budget cuts mounts. But she said this has driven the USDA to pursue innovative solutions aimed at improving access to low-cost and healthy foods.

The current administration is working with local and regional governments and retailers to improve access to healthy food at affordable prices. “It’s not only about health, it’s also about community development and revitalization. Food is the foundation of community,” said Sam Kass, assistant White House chef and food initiative coordinator. Kass also highlighted the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign to combat childhood obesity and her efforts to improve the availability of healthy food in school cafeterias.

The Summit also included a panel discussion on the role of sustainable agriculture in improving food security. According to Nina Fedoroff, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, modern science and technology can help influence productivity and reduce environmental damage. Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Farm, argued that biotech may help solve food issues, but we can’t put all our eggs in one basket. He mentioned that organics receive only 1.5 percent of the federal budget.

Activist and chef Alice Waters emphasized the important role that farmers play in finding solutions to the food crisis, while criticizing corporate control of our food system. We won’t solve the hunger problem until we take care of the farmers, she said. And José Andrés, chef and owner of the ThinkFoodGroup, highlighted the need for donor organizations to stop dumping food aid and start focusing on local solutions that enable communities to feed themselves.

The event highlighted national and global challenges that arise when thinking about the future of our food system. But, ultimately, finding solutions must begin with a dialogue where all voices—especially those of our farmers—are heard.

Do you know of any initiatives that are helping to improve access to fresh, affordable food in the United States and around the world?

Janeen Madan is a communications associate with Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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