Ten Questions Joseph Erbentraut, Senior Reporter at The Huffington Post

From foodtank.com by Lani Furbank
Ten Questions Joseph Erbentraut, Senior Reporter at The Huffington Post

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 40 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, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Joseph Erbentraut, Senior Reporter at The Huffington Post, who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture? 

Joseph Erbentraut (JE): The official response would be that, last year, I made the decision to narrow my reporting beat at The Huffington Post and, as I looked back on the previous coverage I’d done, these were the sorts of issues I was most attracted to. That said, I’ve always been interested in these issues. I was raised on a farm in rural Wisconsin, so I grew up around agriculture. It was always right there in the backdrop.

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system? 

JE: I think there is a huge potential right now to get some really impactful legislation passed that could forever change the way our food system operates. It is abundantly clear that most Americans are not happy with the status quo in these areas, so it is in lawmakers’ interests to begin to pick up that ball and run with it.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about? 

JE: I’m very happy to be seeing incredible work being done in the area of food waste. It all starts with awareness, of course, and many people are still catching up there, but I also think the technology on this issue is improving very quickly and should have a meaningful impact really soon. And in the world of agriculture, I think there’s a lot of progress being made on innovations that are actually getting back to the heart of a more old-school and more sustainable approach to farming. The innovation will be how emerging technologies marry with that more sustainable approach. 

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you? 

JE: There are so many inspiring people working in this field that I’ve already had the opportunity to speak with during my relatively short time on this beat, but so far, I would say I was supremely inspired by the students at Roosevelt High School here in Chicago, whose teacher helped them launch an entire campaign aimed at improving the quality and healthiness of their school’s lunch offerings. It became a national story and has resulted in real improvements. I love stories like that—everyday people working together to force real change, particularly when it happens in an area (like school lunch) where the prevailing wisdom is that improvement is impossible or somehow not worth pursuing.

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

JE: I’m very driven by the incredible number of people who have devoted their lives to this, often making sacrifices along the way. I feel like I’m coming to this beat at a particularly inspiring time and it’s a privilege to be able to tell the stories of these food heroes’ impact.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

JE: To be honest, I think there is a certain amount of romanticizing that takes place when we talk about the food systems our parents and grandparents grew up with that isn’t entirely accurate. That said, there are problems that appear to be unique to our time when it comes to the influence that junk food and soda industries are able to have on our overall wellbeing and health. I also feel that the advent of social media and blogging has, unfortunately, made it very easy to spread misinformation about food and health, just as it has made it easier to spread actually helpful information. It’s a double-edged sword, of course.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

JE: Hunger, no doubt.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference? 

JE: This isn’t a very exciting or “sexy” answer but, honestly: Just get into the kitchen already and start cooking your own food. Look up recipes and try new things, especially those involving fresh fruits and vegetables. Plan your meals so that you waste less of the food you buy. Invite your friends over for a dinner party, a chili cook-off, or a casserole contest. If we all made this simple change I think, by and large, we would be healthier, happier, and we would also have more money in our wallets.

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

JE: Again, hunger.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

JE: I would definitely like to hear an answer to the question of what changes will be made to farm subsidies in the future. Will we take steps to encourage more biodiversity beyond wheat, corn, and soybeans? And what about smaller farmers, particularly organic farmers? And how are we looking to the future with how we are crafting these subsidies? All signs point to it being a very different planet 50 years from now, so I would like to hear how that is being taken into account.


Buy your tickets today. We're offering $100 off in August—use "ChiEarlyBird" at checkout. 

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the live-stream HERE.

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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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