Food and sustainability

Wear an apron to be healthy in a healthy environment

Ellen Gustafson is a sustainable food system activist, author, innovator and social entrepreneur. Her first book, “We the Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World” has been published in 2014. She is also a member of the BCFN Advisory Board and will attend the BCFN Forum in Milan on December 1st. She is the Co-Founder of Food Tank with Danielle Nierenberg . She is also founder of a small sustainable home goods company called the Apron Project. Before the launch of Food Tank, Ellen founded the 30 Project, a campaign that has helped to change the conversation about the global food system by connecting hunger and obesity. She is also the creator of many campaigns which are helping individuals change the food system at dinner tables and in schools. And, last but not least, she is a member of the BCFN Advisory Group, where she brings her expertise in involving all the stakeholders, and especially the youngest one, in the debate around sustainable and healthy food. She will attend the BCFN Forum in Milan, on December 1st , to award the winner of the BCFN Yes! contest. We talked with her about the link between food and health, both on an individual and collective level.

One of your favorite claims is “the plate is the answer”, meaning that each of us, by his or her choices, can make the difference in the food system.
Our global food system is a powerful thing. The system produces enough calories to feed every person on the planet more than each of us needs, and many of us have more diverse food options than our grandparents could have ever imagined. Still, despite the fact that many of us enjoy cheap coffee and bananas from faraway places, there are close to a billion people struggling with hunger, and more than 1.4 billion people globally are overweight or obese.
Our interconnected food system can do amazing things, but we have not figured out how to ensure that we the eaters are fed well in almost every corner of the globe.
Although it’s easy to say that the overweight and hungry around the world are just too lazy or are somehow else at fault for their food-related woes, it actually seems clear that what really needs to change is our food system itself. We need a system in which the most available and easiest food options are also the healthiest and farmers and farmworkers are paid fairly and have the fewest food-related health issues. So, the answers to some of the world’s most pressing problems really are on our plates. As we choose restaurants not just for how cheap or happy their meals are but also for how nutritious their food is and how fairly they pay their workers, we push the system toward the options that allow us — and our neighbors — to be healthier. As we understand better who grows our coffee and bananas and demand more fair trade and socially conscious sourcing, we help prevent hunger among farmers in the developing world thousands of miles away.

You are quite active on the social networks and you have many followers among the young people. What is the role of new generation in solving the food issues of the planet?
When we look at the current food system we see that it leads to obesity, hunger, environmental issues and inequality. It is clear that tThe actual leadership was unable to prevent those problems so we need a need, youngest, leadership to decide what will be the food system of the future.
What is really interesting is that 20 years ago, young people were not interested at all in food and agriculture, while now they are interested in cooking, buying healthy food and protecting the planet. So, we can use their love for good food and their interest in environmental issues to attract them, inform them and build the new leadership.

Many of your campaigns, like the Apron Project, are focused on the food education and on nutritional counselling. Don’t you think that this is a problems only for the US?
Not at all. The American diet has become (unfortunately) the globalized diet even if everybody knows that processed food contains too much fats and sugar. Almost everywhere, even in countries facing hunger, we see that also obesity is increasing. As the issue went global, also the information on good habits has tomust go global. That’s why I launched the Apron Project, pushing people in the US to prepare food from scratch and to cook healthy food. Wearing an apron is not a something good for grandmas but an act of empowerment, something that will end in better health for you, your family and the planet. BCFN, with the development of the Double Pyramid did a great job, linking the health issue with the environmental one and with the strategies to stop the climate change. That’s why I’m happy to be part of the BCFN Advisory Board: through BCFN I can be in contact with industry, policy makers, activists and young researchers all over the world.

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