Food Tank, in partnership with the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Farm-to-Fork Program, and University of California, Davis, is excited to announce the 1st annual Farm Tank Conference at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento on September 22–23, 2016. This two-day event will feature more than 35 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels.
The event will feature interactive panels moderated by top food journalists, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.
Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Hsiao-Ching Chou, food journalist, cookbook author, and Director of Communications at the Institute for Systems Biology, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Hsiao-Ching Chou (HC): Both of my parents got journalism degrees and were successful professionals in Taipei. But after we immigrated to the United States, my parents realized they couldn’t continue their careers and, with no experience but boundless grit, they ended up opening a restaurant to make ends meet. I grew up in my family’s restaurant business and ended up getting a journalism degree. I fell into food writing and discovered I was good at it. Even before buying local, sustainable became a thing, I was writing about pasture-raised chickens—I didn't fully recognize that it was an upcoming trend; it simply was interesting to me.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
HC: We have to improve equity and access to fresh, whole foods and ingredients. We also have to improve education around basic understanding about food, nutrition, and meal prep. If demand for the cheapest and fastest foods continues to grow, the food system will continue to be sick. If the demand shifts, the system has to change.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
HC: I’m excited about all the innovations in urban farming, using LED technology, hydroponics, and aquaponics, etc. These developments can help offset the burden on depleting farmland and also provide more access to people who live in food deserts.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
HC: George and Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch started a farm because they knew they could do better. George got sick, and when a change in diet healed him, the couple knew they had to do something about it. They have been a fixture at Seattle-area farmers markets for more than two decades. Their commitment to raising cattle, pigs, and chickens sustainably and humanely is inspiring. Their generosity is also incredible. Restaurants feature their products, too. I watched their daughter grow up to be a fine young lady—she just graduated from the University of Washington. I love this family and stock their products in my freezer!
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
HC: Children. Mine and others. If I don’t do my part, the food values and traditions that I hold dear will not survive. I love teaching kids’ cooking classes. There are too many young adults now who know everything about computers but whose health are failing because they don’t know how to feed themselves real food. They subsist on caffeinated drinks and junk food, and they never leave their desks or gaming chairs. I hear too many anecdotes. With my office located in the heart of Amazon country in Seattle, I see it with my own eyes. People eat junk and they love it. I don’t want my kids and their contemporaries to be on the trajectory to ill-health.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?
HC: Giant corporate food that is made to be cheap and fast and as convenient as possible.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
HC: Cook one meal a day, using fresh vegetables and other ingredients.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
HC: This is not an agricultural issue per se, but something needs to be done about the awful state of school lunches. The quality is terrible and there’s so much pressure on the school day that kids barely have time to eat. They’re lucky if they get more than 15 minutes total to file into lunchrooms, get settled, eat, and clean up. It takes kids at least five minutes to settle down and get situated before they start eating. Kids are also easily distracted and take longer to eat. Fifteen minutes is not enough time! Kids also don’t like the quality of the food.
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Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Sacramento include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll's, Fair Trade USA, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, and VegFund. More to be announced soon.
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