Last week’s AlumniCorps seminar was a very engaging conversation about many aspects of the problems that exist in our food system—from nutrition, to health, to factory farming, the discussion was far-ranging.
The topic was “Sustainable Food and Public Health”, and the panelists attacked the topic from different points of view. Dr. R. Gordon Douglas ‘55, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Cornell and former President of Merck Vaccine Division, moderated the panel. Douglas began by asking the two panelists to explain the problem of food and sustainability sat they saw it.
David Benzaquen, a former animal rights activist, provided a well-researched presentation replete with statistics about the interlocking problems of public health, nutrition, environmental degradation, climate change, and animal welfare. He emphasized the interconnectedness of the issue.
Nancy Easton ’88, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Wellness in the Schools, told a number of stories recounting anecdotes of the challenges she’d faced in her efforts to bring healthy food and nutritional education into inner city schools in New York City. She shared her frustration with a school where the cafeteria offerings included healthy gourmet bean burritos, but children were still smuggling in Pringles and Oreo cookies while school staff sat by.
Douglas then encouraged the panelists to talk about potential solutions to this complex and far-reaching problem. The discussion ranged from entreaties to reduce (and ideally cease) meat consumption to policy recommendations about corn and soy subsidies to an analysis of the role that class, tradition, and culture play in our food choices.
Though the panelists agreed that the problem can be daunting, the ultimate tone of the evening was one of guarded optimism. Easton stressed the fact that there seems to be a groundswell of interest in this topic reflected everywhere from Michelle Obama’s initiatives to the popularity of farmers markets; Benzaquen talked about the fact that unlike other social justice issues, food and nutrition issues can be tackled through individual and incremental actions.