WASHINGTON, DC Food Tank Summit

Food Tank partnered with George Washington University to hold a one-day summit on February 2, “Let’s Build a Better Food Policy.” The speakers and panel moderators spanned all sectors of the food industry, from elected officials and policy makers to farmers, nutritionists, food journalists and chefs.
The sold-out crowd of 350 individuals was complemented by another 60,000 watching all or part online via Facebook Live or
Panel moderators included: Allison Aubrey of NPR for “A Conversation About the Future of Agriculture in the U.S.” Tim Carman of The Washington Post moderated “Healthy Food Systems.” April Fulton, food & health writer for NPR lead the “Creating Resiliency in Food & Agriculture” panel. Jason Huffman, agriculture & trade editor of Politico moderated “Cultivating Food Security,” and Chuck Abbott of Food & Environmental Reporting Network lead the “Next Farm Bill” panel.
GWU president Steven Knapp welcomed everyone, followed by Rep. Jimmy Panetta. [D-CA] who represents California’s Central Coast, where agriculture fuels the economic engine of this congressional district. Danielle Nierenberg, founder and president of Food Tank introduced keynote speaker chef/activist José Andrés of ThinkFoodGroup, who has a long-standing relationship with DC and GWU.
Several of the panelists were interviewed by Food Tank for a Q&A for its website. An edited version appears below:
As founder, president, and visionary of the non-profit Cancer Schmancer Movement, Fran Drescher focuses on three prongs to fight the disease: early detection, prevention, and advocacy. A 16-year uterine cancer survivor, her mission is to shift America’s focus toward proactive health care and healthy, toxin-free living. She believes that that the best cure for cancer is not getting it in the first place and wants to help those afflicted with terminal illnesses to improve their diets and well-being through sustainably sourced and produced foods.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Fran Drescher (FD): I got famous, I got cancer, and I lived to talk about it. My life mission is to leverage my fame to educate the public that we are what we eat. Food is medicine, and medicine is food.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
FD: An exodus from industrial farms, and the return of the family farm that employs: biodynamic, regenerative, organic non-GMO sustainable practices.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
FD: Once the public re-learns that we are what we eat, they will understand that industrial farms is why we are such a sick nation. And then, we will end the consuming of animals and plants filled with pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, and GMO Round-Up Ready.
Mike Koch is an agribusiness leader and award-winning food advocate and entrepreneur. Prior to becoming the Executive Director of FRESHFARM, Mike served in the Garrett County, Md. government, where he supported the development of Maryland’s first and largest Foodhub: Garrett Growers Cooperative. Since 2000, he has been the president and owner of his hand-made cheese business, Firefly Farms, which won the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Small Business Award.
Food Tank asked Mike about the importance of unraveling the “true cost of food,” and of supporting locally grown and sustainably produced foods.
FT: What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Mike Koch (MK): I own and operate a farm-centric food business: FireFly Farms, an artisan cheesemaker. We were incubated through the FRESHFARM/farmers market network, and I understand well the importance of economic and physical access to consumers that such markets provide.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
MK: The importance of the work and its urgency motivates me. The food system sits at the intersection of environmental, health, and social justice issues that touch every individual, family, and community.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
MK: Our biggest opportunity lies in harnessing the power of changing consumer demand. The dramatic change in consumer preference for locally grown and sustainably produced foods can drive significant change if farmers and food producers are providing the support needed to sustainably scale production and access wholesale channels effectively. Amplifying this consumer demand through early childhood education provides a powerful “one-two” punch.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
MK: Level the playing field for small and medium-sized agri-businesses through rationalized regulation, investment in “food security” infrastructure, and rural economic development funding and jobs creation.
As the Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility for Sodexo North America, Ted Monk oversees Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow 2025 commitments, which address issues surrounding health and wellness, sustainable sourcing, water waste, and energy management. Ted has more than 25 years of experience in operations in corporate services, health care, and education. Ted is the Board Chair for the Alameda County Community Food Bank and sits on the board of Open Heart Kitchen.
Food Tank had the chance to speak with Ted about his desire to end hunger and food waste, and about those who have inspired him to work towards those goals.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
TM: We have to find a way to feed an ever-increasing population with food which is healthier, while improving animal welfare and protecting the environment. I do believe it is possible, but it will take significant changes in the supply chain, and the food may cost more money. We either pay more for it at the front end, or we pay through health care costs in the future.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
TM: Reducing the amount of meat they consume and replacing it with a plant forward alternative. This one step has positive implications for health as well as the environment.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
TM: My request would be to continue supporting farmers through the various USDA subsidy programs, because so much of the excess food finds its way into our schools and our food banks where it can help to provide nutritious meals for children, seniors, and those in need.

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