Heroic Endeavors: Food Tank

At GRACE, we emphasize the interconnections among food, water and energy systems. These connections may seem obvious, but we continue to make this point because as a society, we often approach these three systems separately. When it comes to food, thought leaders, business leaders and policymakers often approach either obesity or hunger, although the two are, as has been written here and elsewhere, “two sides of the same coin.”  Enter Food Tank, the brainchild of Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson.

Perhaps best known as the former director of the Nourishing the Planet project at the Worldwatch Institute, Nierenberg, an expert in sustainable agriculture, spent two years in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, brainstorming environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger and poverty. Gustafson, the founder and executive director of the 30 Project, also co-founded FEED Projects and was a US Spokesperson for the UN World Food Program. In her 2010 TEDx talk, Gustafson pinpointed the root of both issues: “The fundamental problem continuing to cause both hunger and obesity,” she said, “is that it is difficult, almost everywhere in the world, to access nutritious foods.”

Food Tank’s main thrust is its approach to hunger and obesity problems, both domestic and global. The project’s most recent newsletter shed light on this problem:

Worldwide, at least 1 billion people are hungry, while another 1.5 billion people are considered overweight or obese. One of Food Tank’s goals is to bridge the major disconnect between organizations that are fighting hunger and organizations that are fighting obesity. The two groups have more in common than they think and the solutions to both problems aren’t that different.

Food Tank has made quite a splash already – its launch has been covered by publications like Grist and The Daily Meal as well as mainstream news sites like the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. The duo have also landed a series of high-profile opinion pieces – Nierenberg recently wrote in Businessweek about the complicated nature of food system change, and why it shouldn’t depend too heavily on multinational corporations:

…when major corporations are the only stakeholders providing the services for agricultural development, there are potential risks, including forcing technologies, partnerships, and policies on farmers because it’s profitable for their own bottom lines, leading to dependence on one company or product and a potential loss of agricultural biodiversity.

Investments might be better spent on innovations that are already in place. These aren’t the big-ticket items—biotechnology and high-tech machinery, for example—that companies and funders think are sexy. They tend to be low-tech, high-impact innovations with tremendous potential for replication and scale. Local ideas and solutions, in some cases, can be just as powerful as monetary investments from big corporations.

We at GRACE are eager to join the conversation and will be following Food Tank’s progress as it continues to spark conversation and change minds. A "Change the Food System" summit within the year? Yes, please. Nierenberg/Gustafson 2016 ? They’d have my vote.