How Food Tank Hopes To Inspire Big Changes in the Food System by Cultivating Community

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There’s no denying that our food system is broken. According to the USDA, in the U.S. alone, nearly 33.8 million people—or about 10 percent of U.S. households—experienced food insecurity at some point in 2021. Yet, it’s estimated that food waste accounts for about 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in America. Then, when you look at the number of people facing hunger worldwide—which was approximately 345 million in 2022 (that’s more than the entire U.S. population altogether)—the reality is even more unsettling.

Clearly, the answer is change. That’s where Food Tank, a nonprofit organization advocating for big change in the food system that launched in 2013, comes in to play. We caught up with Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank and a Well+Good 2022 Changemaker recipient, to learn more about the organization’s mission to form a community that educates all about sustainable solutions for pressing environmental and social problems.

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Well+Good: Can you describe Food Tank’s mission in a nutshell?

Danielle Nierenberg: What we try to do is actually very simple. We try to highlight stories of hope and success in food and agriculture systems, both domestically and internationally, to help make those bridges between what's happening overseas and what's happening here because, often, it’s very similar. We have so much to learn, especially around the climate crisis, from what farmers and others are doing to help solve it in other parts of the world.

W+G: How do you bridge the gap to connect people globally with valuable information?

DN: We do a lot of different things and try to meet people where they are. For starters, we have a very robust news website where we publish stories from around the globe daily, 365 days a year. We also have a podcast where we talk with different experts about what's happening in food and agriculture systems. We also convene many events, including on Capitol Hill, and do a lot of on-the-ground research in places like Senegal. At the core of it, we really just try to raise awareness in a centrist manner—we’re neither right nor left, despite my own personal or political views—and shine a spotlight on groups and individuals who don’t get the support, research, or investment that they need otherwise.

W+G: What inspired you to launch Food Tank in the first place?

DN: I come from a very small town in Missouri called Defiance. I grew up around many farmers, though I wasn’t interested in farming at the time. In fact, at the time, I blamed farmers for destroying the environment. In college, I went on to major in environmental policy and government. Following that, I joined the Peace Corps and volunteered in the Dominican Republic. There, I had an epiphany: I was meeting so many farmers who were doing amazing things—like shade-grown coffee and raising bees—and I realized the connection between our agricultural systems and the people who produce the food that we eat every day and how they're actually supporting healthy ecosystems.

Later, I worked at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank. There, I led a project called Nourishing the Planet, where I traveled with my now co-founder of Food Tank to 26 countries across the African continent, highlighting those transforming the agriculture systems in the region. That's really what inspired us to start Food Tank to tell the stories of hope and success, to change the paradigm of doom and gloom and what's wrong with the world to what's right with it.

W+G: How do you hope to enact actionable change through Food Tank’s messaging?

DN: I think so much of what we read doesn’t have a clear action item. We want to tell people about something great that’s going on and give them something to do with it. For example, 10 years ago, folks weren't as excited about preventing food loss and waste as they are now. But now, with information about food loss, we’re doing simple things like buying less at the grocery store and composting at home, ensuring we’re using the food we buy and not wasting our money.

W+G: What area needs improvement that we should be focusing on?

DN: It's been exciting to watch women, youth, and folks of color who have been ignored in our food and agriculture systems for so long become a regular topic of conversation. An especially noteworthy statistic is that women make up about 43 percent of global agricultural labor in developing countries. In some nations, they make up 70 percent of farmers, yet don’t have the same access to education, tools built for women and not men, financial banking, and infrastructure, just to name a few. We're ignoring these women at our own peril because if women had the same access to resources as men, they could lift as many as 100 million people out of hunger.

W+G: What’s coming up in the pipeline in 2023?

DN: We'll be helping Fed by Blue, an organization that focuses on aquatic foods, launch their Hope is in the Water series with chef Andrew Zimmern at Sundance Film Festival during the food segment called ChefDance. I'm also speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, an annual conference for farmers in the United Kingdom. We’re really excited to host events for the South by Southwest food track in March—a series of discussions on technology and policy that can change how food can be grown, distributed, cooked, and experienced in healthier and more sustainable ways. And we'll be working with the historically Black college and university, Huston-Tillotson, to have a food tank summit and screen different food films. So it's a very exciting start to 2023.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Learn more about how our food choices have an impact on the environment:

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