Food Fight: Summit Hashes Out Future of Food

WASHINGTON At this year’s Food Tank Summit, founder Danielle Nierenberg doesn’t want the audience to get comfortable she wants them to get angry.

“Preaching to the choir hasn’t gotten us to where we need to go in terms of building resilience, increasing income for farmers, protecting the environment, and we think it’s important to bring together a lot of different sides for some uncomfortable conversations,” Nierenberg said.

Food Tank, a think tank for food, is hosting four summits across the U.S. in 2017, and the first is in D.C. on Feb. 2 at George Washington University. Nierenberg says the point of the meetings is to bring together people from both sides of the aisle including researchers, politicians, farmers and non-governmental organizations to hash out what the future of food looks like in the U.S. and abroad.

One of the many topics up for discussion at this year’s summit is the 2018 Farm Bill.

Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of sustainability at George Washington University, says with a new administration and a new Secretary of Agriculture yet to be confirmed, this is one of the most discussed issues in the industry.

“The farm bill is a huge piece of legislation — everyone knows that,” Merrigan said.

“The next farm bill, the big issue that’s on the table is will we continue in the path of farm bills behind us where nutrition and farmers’ programs stay together, or will they be split apart?” she added.

Merrigan says food conferences, like the summit, often attract advocates in favor of sustainable food movements, but just because someone is in support of locally grown produce and grass-fed beef, doesn’t mean they’re well-versed in the legislation behind it all.

In the panel she’s leading with other researchers and politicians, Merrigan hopes to convey the core aspects of the bill that impacts so many.

“We know a farm bill is coming and we need to gear up. We want people to be talking about it, learning more about it, so that they’re ready,” she said, adding that the bill can have historic and widespread implications.

“Back in the olden days, I remember the 1990 Farm Bill, which was the first one I worked on, where we added a whole title on organic agriculture and that was seen as quite revolutionary.”

Other topics that will be explored at the D.C. Food Tank Summit include food security, healthy food systems, and immigration and agriculture.

A reception hosted by Restaurant Nora’s is already sold out, and tickets to the panels are going quickly, but Nierenberg says the whole event can be livestreamed for free.

“I honestly hope that people get angry, and that they get inspired, and that they see the challenges ahead, but they also see the opportunity,” Nierenberg added.

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