Ten Questions with Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs

From foodtank.com
Marisa Tsai

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 Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow on Global Agricultural Development at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, who will be speaking at the summit.


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

Roger Thurow (RT): As a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, writing about humanitarian and development issues, I saw that the hungriest people in the world are farmers.  Particularly the smallholder farmers of Africa, whose productivity was so far behind farmers in the U.S. and Africa that they suffered through an annual hunger season.  I began writing about the “uneven plowing fields” of global agriculture that brought hunger into the 21st Century.  Hungry farmers -- it’s an absurd, obscene, shameful oxymoron.  It is the one story that I feel compelled to keep coming back to as a journalist.

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

RT: I hope that the recent increases in investments for agriculture development and nutrition can continue to level the world’s uneven plowing fields and eliminate the phrase “hungry farmers.”  

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

RT: Innovations like Harvest Plus and biofortification that aim to raise the nutritious value of crops and thus end malnutrition and childhood stunting.  Through conventional breeding, biofortification raises the nutrient levels – like iron, zinc and vitamin A – already present in various staple crops.  These efforts place nutrition at the center of agriculture.  Also innovations like the growing movement focusing on the importance of good nutrition in the first 1,000 days – the time from the beginning of a mother’s pregnancy to the second birthday of her child.  Poor nutrition in this time can lead to physical and cognitive stunting, which sentences the child to a lifetime of underachievement and underperformance.  Today, one in every four children in our world is stunted – a tremendous loss of potential for all of us.

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

RT: I was traveling in Uganda with Howdy Bouis, one of the pioneers of biofortification and leader of Harvest Plus.  We were in a village where the farmers were growing orange-flesh sweet potatoes rich in vitamin A and high-iron beans – nutrients of crucial importance in the first 1,000 days.  Farmers from miles around gathered to greet Howdy.  One mother approached with her young child and asked if someone could take a photo of Howdy with her child.  “I want to be able to show it to my child someday,” the mother said, “and say to him, ‘This is the man who made you smart, the man who gave you a successful future.’ ”

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

RT: The imperatives of my journalistic mantra: outrage and inspire.  What can I do as a journalist to raise the clamor about the outrages of hunger in the 21st Century, of hungry farmers, of stunted children, and to inspire readers into action?

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

RT: The impacts of climate change, which threaten the livelihoods of farmers in many places of the world and threaten to reduce both crop yields and the nutritious value of those crops.

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

RT: I’d like to see “the first 1,000 days” become a household phrase.  So that everyone in the U.S. and around the world hears that phrase and immediately knows that good nutrition is so vital to the physical and mental development of our children, and by extension, the healthy and prosperous development of our societies.  With this awareness will come increased investments in “gray matter infrastructure” – the healthy development of our children’s brains as well as bodies.

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

RT: Become informed and raise the clamor.

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

RT: The elimination of childhood malnutrition and stunting.

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

RT: Putting good nutrition in the first 1,000 days at the top of the domestic and international agenda.



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.

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please email Bernard at Bernard@foodtank.com

Want to watch videos from previous Food Tank Summits? Please click HERE

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.

Join the discussion using #FoodTank across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!