Activists Combat Global Food Waste at NYU

Belle Lu, Contributing Writer

Each year, a third of all food produce almost 1.3 billion tons is wasted or lost globally, including almost half of all fruits and vegetables grown. In North America, 300 pounds of food waste is produced per person, annually.

Attendees grappled with this pressing global issue at the second annual New York City Food Tank Summit, held at NYU Law’s Vanderbilt Hall on Wednesday. The event was organized by Food Tank, a non-profit organization that aims to establish environmentally, socially and economically sustainable methods of alleviating food-related issues such as hunger, obesity and poverty.

The event was hosted in partnership with a number of organizations, including the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Scholars and activists from across the field of food studies gathered in the hopes of brainstorming methods of reducing waste.

The summit featured over 35 speakers, including lead food businesspeople, farmers, chefs, researchers and activists. The event was live-streamed and the hashtag #FoodTank garnered over 2,000 tweets throughout the day.

“The food system is the basis of civilization; if you can’t get that right, you can’t address all the other problems,” Rockefeller Foundation Food Initiative Director Roy Steiner said. “If it was a country, food waste would be the third biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China and the U.S. We can’t solve the problem of the environment without first solving food waste.”

Another speaker at the summit was Haile Thomas, a 17-year-old health activist who founded the non-profit Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth (HAPPY) when she was 12 years old. Thomas was featured on a panel with Grammy-winning musician Questlove, an adjunct professor at Tisch School of the Arts.

“I think the best thing that we can do is be informed and connect with others who are experts in this field, such as through [Twitter and] Instagram,” Thomas said. “But also just sharing your story if you have a health journey that you can connect to the food movement, share that with your peers, whether through clubs you’re involved in or just talking about it to your classmates or roommates. Learn, share and exchange.”

Steinhardt graduate student Yvonne Cuaresma said she attended the summit out of a sense of moral obligation.

“At this summit, people are so open to change and receptive to things,” Cuaresma said. “There are so many more people in the food waste conversation than I expected.”

The summit also attracted students from colleges other than NYU across the city, such as Lehman College senior Emily Pena.

“It’s all very new for me, so I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can,” Pena said. “I’m happy to be learning about all these organizations that are so active in such a relevant issue today.”

Marion Nestle, Steinhardt’s Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, was another featured speaker at the summit. Nestle emphasized that political engagement can be a useful stepping stone towards minimizing food waste.

“My best advice for the youth of today is to learn as much as you can about the issues you care about,” Nestle said. “Get involved in local politics. Go to your school, talk to your city council about making a better food system. Vote with your fork and vote with your vote!”

Email Belle Lu at [email protected].