Stanford hosted Food Summit 4 on October 30th with the caption of “growing pathways to careers in food systems.” Below is a quick recap of the most interesting nuggets I gleaned from the event, following four main themes.
1) Growing food locally
PlantLab: Gertjan Meeuws, Co-Founder of PlantLab, shared the rationale behind this Netherlands-based vertical farming operation. He began with the premise that, contrary to popular belief, plants don’t like nature, and that it doesn’t necessarily make the most sense to grow crops where nature is kind, and transport them to the cities in which we live. The presentation was compelling (and Gertjan’s TED talk gives a great summary). Where I am left hesitant is understanding why this model is economically feasible compared with alternatives that have been shown to cost too much (due to energy to provide artificial lighting).
LYFE Kitchen: Laura Keller, my friend and former classmate shared LYFE Kitchen’s admirable sourcing guidelines (see photo), aggressive roll-out plans (~250 locations within the next five years), and how those two often come into conflict. They’re reportedly working with a vertical grower in Chicago in order to ensure a year-round supply of local produce as they expand outside California. I’m interested to watch the growth unfold! (this blog previously covered LYFE when they first opened in 2011)
2) Getting healthy food into schools
Miguel Villarreal: It’s always a treat to hear Miguel speak about the unbelievable change he’s been able to drive in the Novato Unified School District Food and Nutritional Services (FANS) program. The two victories he highlighted: 1) Removing 400 pounds of sugar per day (32 tons per year) from the schools over the past eight years and 2) Pushing forward a City of Novato ordinance that junk food trucks can’t park and market unhealthy food outside the schools. Miguel was highlighted as a Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Hero in 2011 and has worked on many other initiatives in addition to these.
Stanford Dining: I’ve long been a fan of the Stanford Dining Halls and their commitment to sustainable food purchasing. Sustainable Food Program Manager Dara Silverstein shared with the group the buying commitments Stanford Dining has committed to. It’s a pretty cool list and shows the progress they’ve made in replacing conventional sources for many ingredients (and also illustrates which operations are capable of supplying such a large-scale customer)
- Milk – Strauss Family Creamery
- Burgers – Marin Sun Farms
- Tuna – American Tuna
- Salmon – Taku River Reds
- Romaine – Earthbound Farm Organic
- Chard – Coke Farm
- Herbs – Jacobs Farm Organic
3) Getting people into the kitchen
Homemade: Founders Ai Chloe Chien (another GSB classmate) and Anna Rakoczy shared the early results of Homemade: the weekly cooking program they launched this summer to empower those with diet-related health needs to free themselves from “dieting” and develop healthy cooking habits for life. Both Chloe and Anna left lucrative jobs on the table (for Chloe, residency following her joint degree from Stanford Medical School and Stanford GSB, and for Anna, a career as a lawyer, and the former 2008 Australian Young Lawyer of the Year) to follow their passion for empowering healthy eating habits in others. Though only three months old, the program has had early success (“weight loos of up to 25 pounds in three months”) though by their own admission the long-term impact of diet-related weight loss matters more than short-term results. More impressive to me than the weight loss is that they’re proving that the business model works. They’ve found customers willing to pay ~$160-180 per week to participate (for 2 hours of group cooking and meals to take-home), an impressive feat on its own.
Sodium Girl: Jessica Goldman Fuong, blogger and cookbook author, was an awesome panelist with an inspiring story. Having been diagnosed with Lupus (an autoimmune disorder that affected her kidneys and brain), Jessica turned to a salt-free low-sodium diet and assembles recipes and tips via her blog and cookbook which prove that a low-sodium diet can be full of flavor. When asked for her advice on getting people into the kitchen she says she always starts with the ambience, “trick out your kitchen, make it fun, bring in color, and love to be in it.” I love this approach. Perhaps there’s room for innovation in terms of making our kitchens the best space in the house, and the healthy cooking will follow.
Jesse Cool: Restaurateur, author, teacher, and vocal sustainable food advocate, Jesse Cool also offered her advice in terms of how to get people cooking, especially kids: “build early and easy successes in the kitchen. Have kids make a baked potato, and poof! They’ve cooked! I like to teach them that you don’t have to be afraid of foods, of fats, of sugar; that it’s all okay in moderation. And to just try.”
4) Finding innovative uses for communal spaces
Off the Grid: I’d never heard founder Matt Cohen speak before and I was really engaged by his innovative approach to affecting the food system. Drawing from his experience with open food markets in Asia and Africa (and their primary role in community-building vs. secondary role in selling food), Matt took a look around San Francisco with the lens of, “what are unused communal spaces, and how can they be repurposed to create community?” Starting with the massive and often-empty parking lot in Fort Mason, Matt launched Off the Grid in the summer of 2010. Week 1 saw 300 attendees, and the count doubled every week to reach the 6-8K weekly attendees the Fort Mason event currently hosts. His advice to the audience: “look for more underutilized spaces, because there are many, and think creatively about what you can do to build community in those spaces.” If it promotes healthy, local eating and small businesses at the same time, even better.
Thanks to Christopher Gardner, Antonella Dewell, and the speakers and panelists for putting together an awesome event! And special thanks to Stanford Dining for this beautiful, massive, dream-come-true kale salad…!