Food Systems and The Climate Crisis: Reasons for Concern, Hope and Action
Written by Lauren Taymor, MBA ’21 CRB Student Advisory Board Member and CRB Fellow
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing from former Vice President Al Gore and Alice Waters about the challenges and opportunities of tackling the climate crisis through food systems. Gore is the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project and the co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management. He also has deep roots in farming, growing up spending summers learning about caring for the land on his family farm. Gore’s family farm is now “dedicated to sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, soil recarbonization, soil carbon research and conservation.” Although the challenges facing us are grave, Gore believes that this is an exciting time – a time when new discoveries are being made about where you can make a positive difference in the world. If this paragraph is all you have time for, the key takeaway is this: we can create the future we want.
This past year revealed the strong linkage between the climate crisis, the pandemic, and the legacy of institutional racism and structural injustice. The pandemic has also revealed weaknesses in our food systems and supply chains. At least one of the food supply chains broke down as we saw the separateness of the retail versus commercial supply chains. We also saw higher COVID death rates in communities that experience food deserts. As Gore said, “all of these issues fit together like a hand in a glove.” We cannot address one without the other. Despite these interconnected challenges, Gore is optimistic. He shared that President Biden has appointed an A+ climate team that will approach climate initiatives in the context of job creation and with an understanding of the importance of climate justice.
Beyond policy, Gore sees exciting possibilities to build a new food system with a movement towards local and regenerative agriculture. To do this, Gore says “it all starts with the soil.” Carbon sequestration in soils offers us one of the single largest opportunities to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. Beyond carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture yields a more resilient food system.
One of the keys is connecting regenerative farmers with chefs and restaurants, something very familiar to Alice Waters, a pioneer of the slow food movement, owner of Chez Panisse, and the founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project. Waters described how her relationship with food has been shaped by her parents’ victory garden and spending time in France as a young adult. Growing up, some of her earliest memories were eating strawberries straight from the family garden. Her parents’ victory garden was born out of necessity, to feed the family, but it instilled in her a strong connection to nature. At 19, Waters discovered the slow food culture in France, where the food was seasonal and kids would come home at lunch to spend 2 hours eating with their families. She learned how taste influences people and their relationship to food. Waters says “we need to give information to our minds through our senses.” This is the inspiration behind Edible Education and the Edible Schoolyard Project. Waters is also a strong advocate of school-supported agriculture, which is a model for school meal programs that provides free, regeneratively-farmed meals for K-12 children. “At the heart of this work is the conviction that nutrition begins in the soil.”
Al Gore left us with an inspirational reminder that we can create the future we envision. He recalled being 13 years old when JFK declared that the US would land a person on the moon and bring them back safely within the decade. Gore remembers how much skepticism there was among the adults. 8 years later when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, the average age of the systems engineers in mission control was 26. They were 18 years when the decision to go to the moon was made. They changed their lives to become part of the moon mission and they helped make that goal a reality. Gore says, “you are part of a time when humanity is rising up to demand a better future.” We can all be part of that better future. We can choose to believe in climate action, choose our career paths, and make the climate mission a reality.
In the meantime, Alice Waters’ mission is a reminder that our everyday actions can make a difference. Buying local and eating seasonal is not only better for the planet, it also tastes better. Waters describes how seasonal produce means you are taking the produce at its perfect moment, meaning you get perfectly ripe and flavorful fruits and vegetables. So head to your local farmer’s market to pick up some seasonal produce to savor at home or consider signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) box to further your own edible education!
About the Author
Lauren Taymor – MBA 21′ CRB Student Advisory Board Member and CRB Fellow
Prior to Haas, Lauren worked as a sustainability consultant leading project teams to achieve their sustainability certification targets and minimize climate change risks to their buildings. Launching a new resilient buildings service sparked her interest in innovation and brand management. Lauren spent her summer at Danone working on innovation for Horizon Organic. After graduation, Lauren will be joining Clorox as an Associate Marketing Manager.