Ten Questions with Gregory Kearns of Heifer International
Food Tank, in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, is hosting the 1st Annual Chicago Food Tank Summit on November 16, 2016.
This event will feature more than 30 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels, networking, and delicious food.
Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Gregory Kearns of Heifer International, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Gregory Kearns (GK): My first overseas assignment was working in southern Sudan in 1993-1995 and experiencing large-scale famine despite the presence of food in the region. While my work is not specifically food/agriculture related, it is in the overall context of community development.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
GK: To encourage people to eat their traditional diets and to avoid the processed food that has contributed to skyrocketing epidemics of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other chronic diseases just since around 1980. It is astonishing to witness the decline in health in the United States in only the last generation.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
GK: Agro-ecology. In fact, there are many innovations and there always have been. Our challenge is to scale them up.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
GK: I cannot point to any one hero, but I can point to the humanitarian community that has delivered nutritious food under fire in war zones around the world. These people have literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives and put their own lives at risk to do so.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
GK: Several things. We have places where there simply isn’t enough food. There are others where there is food but little purchasing power. And yet in others, we have nutritional guidelines developed in the United States that have directly contributed to sky-rocketing obesity and all of its attendant problems.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?
GK: They ate whole food and they were not misled by USDA’s food pyramid that told us to consume 6-11 servings of grains daily and to cut out fat (which has led to the obesity epidemic and other chronic diseases).
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
GK: Small-holder farmers produce 70 percent of the world’s food yet they are the most likely to be malnourished and poor. Their plight must be dealt with if we are to feed an ever-growing population.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
GK: I don’t know that this is simple, but reduce or eliminate processed carbohydrate foods in the diet. It will lead to weight loss and the reduction of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Secondly, everyone should read the book by the science writer Gary Taubes entitled “Good Calories, Bad Calories”. While written for the health practitioners and the medical community, it is an excellent primer on how our population (in the United States) has become so unhealthy and how this poor health is spreading wherever Western eating habits are adopted.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
GK: We are making progress and know how to deal with malnutrition. However, the problem of obesity (i.e. under-nutrition) is more intransigent as a problem because there is not consensus on what to do. The fight over-nutrition is far more expensive, given its connections to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, each of which costs taxpayers billions of dollars per year in the United States alone. It has now spread to places such as China, which now has 130 million diabetics.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
GK: Promotion of agro-ecology, re-writing of USDA’s nutrition guidelines, elimination of corporate research related to public health, and reduction of subsidies to large agribusinesses.
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Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Chicago include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll's, Elevation Burger, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, and Organic Valley. More to be announced soon.
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