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Future of Food lecturers share perspectives on agriculture, food

Imagine entering your local grocery store and finding only half the shelves stocked or the rationing of some foodstuffs. What is the relationship between technology, sustainability and U.S. food policy? Will genetically-modified foods usher in the next Green Revolution or pose a threat to health and well-being? Those and other questions led to the development of the Future of Food seminar series.

The series, which started last fall, included four speakers on a variety of food-related topics. Dr. Sam Pardue, associate dean and director of Academic Programs for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, developed the series to “stimulate discussion surrounding the important food issues of the day.” Pardue said he chose speakers who offered different perspectives on food issues.

“Ideally, students and others will come away from the seminars and challenge some of their tightly held stereotypes and attitudes,” Pardue said. “Engaging the N.C. State community in dialogue about food is a goal.”

Attracting students to the lectures was one goal, Pardue said, though he also hoped that faculty, staff and members of the community would be interested in the lecturer and topics.

In a flier about the Future of Food seminars, Pardue explained the seminar’s concept this way, “The role of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will have even greater significance in the future because of the fiscal and physical realities the planet will face in the coming decades relative to human population growth and the increasing demands to feed a hungry world. Food production in the future will likely be confronted with concerns involving energy, water, climate change, and the threat of agro-terrorism.

“Whether future generations will inherit a world described by Paul Roberts in his books The End of Oil and The End of Food will be in part determined by the policies we pursue in the next 10 to 20 years.  It is that perspective that served as the genesis of the Future of Food seminar series.”

In March and April, the college welcomed two seminar speakers, Dr. Jason Clay, senior vice president, market transformation, World Wildlife Fund, and Dr. Ricardo Salvador, director, food & environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Clay said that protecting wildlife in the future requires new attention to the way the world produces food. He discussed the need to increase food production by 2050 to meet a world population projected to reach 9 billion, while still protecting the world’s natural resources.

“If we don’t get where and how we produce food right by 2050, we may as well cut out the lights and go home,” he said.

Reducing food waste, using less water for agriculture and rehabilitating degraded land were among the solutions Clay discussed. Food markets and major food producers are now demanding food that is produced sustainably, he said, adding that market pressures will prove to be powerful influences on how food is produced in the future.

The U.S. food system is designed for producing food that is convenient to prepare, but not necessarily healthy to eat, according to seminar speaker Ricardo Salvador. Salvador also discussed his perception of problems in the food production system, particularly the Farm Bill’s limited support for fruits and vegetables, compared with major for commodities like wheat and corn. He proposed that the Farm Bill should more focus on producing fruits and vegetables, reducing food waste, feeding hungry people in the U.S. and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

Salvador also was the kickoff speaker for the year-long 20th anniversary celebration of the Center for Environmental Farming System. CEFS, a partnership of N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, provides statewide programs to promote sustainable agriculture and local food systems in North Carolina and beyond. Salvador attended a reception for CEFS following his April 1 lecture.

The fall speakers and seminars were:
Dr. Barry M. Popkin, W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health and author of  The World Is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race.
Seminar title: National and Global Obesity: Changing Dynamics and Challenges in How the World Eats, Moves and Attempts to Prevent Adverse Health Effects

Dr. Jayson Lusk, professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair, Oklahoma State University, Department of Agricultural Economics and author of The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate
Seminar title: The Future of Food

–N. Hampton