Friday 25 Aug, 2017

Solving Global Hunger, One Ugly Tomato at A Time

This article is from one of EF’s Global Leadership Summit interns, Zoe, following her experience at our “Future of Food” Summit in Milan, Italy. The Summit Internship Program gives high school students a chance to deepen their experience at EF Summits by gaining valuable real-life skills through public speaking, journalism, social media, and photography.

Going to an EF Global Leadership Summit in Milan, Italy was something I didn’t know would change my life until it happened. Being able to interact with students from countries I have only ever read about in textbooks and hearing from speakers I have only ever seen on TV is just about as cool as it gets – or so I thought. In addition to keynote speakers and the opportunity to interact with my peers, I had the chance to participate in workshops led by experts in the food industry. The first workshop I attended at this Summit, and each one after that, blew me away and gave me more useful information than I ever could have imagined.

Among the sessions I participated in, one in particular called “Fighting Waste, Feeding People” resonated with me the most. While the issue of food waste may be impossible to solve in the course of an hour, the workshop left me wanting to make a change. The session focused on the amount of food we in the United States throw out. Despite the fact that people in less developed areas of the world are fighting for every bite, in the US a whopping 40% of food is discarded and tossed into landfills or trash cans. The leader of this workshop, Ben Simon, told us what he and some friends had done to help reduce this number. By raising awareness and recovering excess food for homeless shelters, this group fought food waste and fed those who were in need. This program caught on in other schools, and today the organization collects half a million pounds of produce a month as the largest food recovery NGO in the U.S. Mr. Simon then went on to discuss his current project: Imperfect Produce. This program brands foods otherwise seen as ugly, as cool and helps communicate to the public that fruits and veggies that are usually tossed aside for a little bump or deformity are actually healthy and completely safe to eat—even if they look abnormal. Ben Simon’s work will continue to help feed hundreds of people in America and is contributing to making sure that one day, food waste will be a thing of the past.

This session blew me away not only because of this organization’s inspiring work but also due to what I learned by being there. While it may seem impossible, if we reduced food waste by 30%, every single hungry American would be fed. That means no more soup kitchens, food pantries, or food stamps. This may seem like a utopia of sorts, but it is fully possible if instead of throwing out a bumpy pear it was saved for donation. If instead of taking more than you know you can eat, you simply went back for seconds. Small changes can make a huge difference. Facts like these helped make this workshop so influential for students like me. This session not only changed my perspective on the future of food, but it also changed how I act in everyday life. It’s amazing how we could address world hunger if a fruit’s appearance didn’t discourage people from eating it. Food waste, an issue that affects millions and millions of people, could be solved if we could alter one flawed social norm. If appearances ceased to be a deciding factor in so many decisions in the world, we could literally feed every hungry person in America and beyond. I used to view hunger as a complex issue, caused by hundreds of difficult factors. While it is complex, some of these factors can be easily solved. This workshop opened my eyes to how ordinary people can make a difference in driving change. I used to think that no matter how many smart and innovative people there were working to address global challenges, some issues were too large to solve. Today I know that by simply looking at issues from different angles, solutions can be found.

This Summit was more than I ever could have imagined—more learning, more creation, and more inspiration. The workshops were an integral part of this experience. Working with thirty other students of all different ages from all different places allowed for incredible, global innovation. While I happened to focus on “Fighting Waste, Feeding People,” dozens of other sessions also helped create an amazing experience at the Summit. I learned lessons that will be valuable for every stage of life. Above all, food is what makes us a society. And innovation and international collaboration are crucial to addressing the global food challenges we all face.