Changing the Food System

Changing the Food System

Danielle Nierenberg, N01, could see smart ways that we could feed the hungry, fight obesity and still preserve the environment. She just needed a lot more people to know about them. So she quit her job, took $6,000 of her savings and set out to see if a global network of concerned citizens—from academics and farmers to activists and moms and dads—could help build a more sustainable, nutritious food system.

The nonprofit she founded, Food Tank: The Think Tank for Food, which will sponsor a two-day summit at Tufts on April 1, has built a worldwide social media and online following of more than 500,000 people from 190 countries in just four years. As president, Nierenberg, an alumna of the Friedman School’s Agriculture, Food and Environment Program, uses Food Tank to promote environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity and poverty. The solutions are as diverse as those who devise them—homeowners in Florida and California who donate their lawns as organic garden space, a man who makes rooftop gardens in Hong Kong, an Australian group that rescues surplus airline food to feed the hungry.

Food Tank’s stories—light on wonky jargon and heavy on the “food heroes” behind the innovations—have found an audience. Nierenberg’s commentaries on food waste, urban agriculture, climate change, family farms and the like have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and many other national and international newspapers. Last year, more than 30,000 people livestreamed the conferences and events the nonprofit hosted.

The April 1 summit, for which Food Tank is collaborating with the Friedman School and Oxfam America, will focus on investing in discovery. It will take place on Tufts’ health sciences campus in Boston and feature more than three dozen speakers, including Boston chef Jody Adams; U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus; Tufts faculty members; food company reps; and a California rancher and pork producer.

Nierenberg, a former program director for the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, talked with Tufts Now about why she likes conferences that don’t preach to the choir, how the Peace Corps challenged what she thought she knew about farmers, and why she sees hope in unexpected places.

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