The Right Recipe
I grew up among the suburban cornfields of Iowa where neighborhoods mingled among farmland. Every day I passed by golden fields of corn or the green rows of soybeans on my way to school. Each summer my family had a daily routine of picking up ears of corn by the dozen down at the gas station to eat with dinner.
I was still young when the fields began to be paved over. Storefronts cropped up instead of plants, and the soybeans were split with highways. As an anxious child, I assumed that the food I ate came from the disappearing fields.
“Those fields don’t feed people. They feed livestock,” my father reassured me. My follow-up question was a little more difficult to navigate: how are we going to feed the livestock? In classic parent fashion, he told me not to worry about it.
But I did worry. The math seemed simple: more people meant fewer fields and fewer fields meant less food for those people. Once the equation was in my head, I couldn’t get it out. The total world population was just over 5 billion when I was born. I remember the day in high school when it reached 7 billion. By 2050, it’s expected to be nearly 10 billion.
While I worried, I assumed that my lack of interest or skill in science meant there wasn’t a role for me in this fight, that I didn’t have the recipe for success in that field. I went to college and majored in communication studies, far more interested in how words change the world than in numbers. My eyes were set on getting a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Thailand. My worries about a sufficient food supply subsided for a time while I focused on other passions.
Upon graduation, in the interim period before my grant, I stumbled on a World Food Prize George Washington Carver internship program. I knew I needed professional experience and that being a public relations intern at the Foundation would greatly help me. I had no idea that I would also gain a wealth of knowledge about global food systems, the fight against hunger, and how I can use my skills to create change. I was fascinated with the work. In my capacity as an intern, I was involved in editing materials on issues surrounding food security and researching how global populations were combating hunger.
After an incredible summer internship, I departed for Thailand where I have been living in a rural fishing and farming community for nearly a year. There are striking similarities between the fields of Iowa and those in my new community, coupled with many perplexing differences that have pushed me to expand my perspective and understanding of the global food system.
The recipe of exposure to local food systems from a young age coupled with this new exposure to how communities across the world handle food has been invaluable to the way I view the intricacies of food production and insecurity, as well as my role in creating positive change. Most notably, I’ve been able to see how agricultural science alone is not enough to feed the world. While certainly necessary, I’ve also noticed the importance of education, infrastructure and policy in building a healthy food system. My hasty assumption as a high school student that only scientific know-how would give me the tools to be part of the conversation has been cast aside.
While in Thailand I’ve had the opportunity to review student papers as part of the World Food Prize Board of Reviewers. The impressive dedication shown by these students, and the depth of their understanding on how to positively impact the food system is inspiring. These passionate young people, determined to find solutions to our most pressing problems, have shown me the importance of keeping an open mind. There is a role for everyone in creating a sustainable food system that can feed the world. It is simply about finding where I fit in the recipe.