Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday Memo: Food & Society

Kellogg Foundation Food & Society Policy Fellows Hard at Work on Issues of Health, Environmental Sustainability, Fair Trade and Food Affordability

The interaction between food and society is all pervasive. Food production, distribution and policy all impact and help shape social and economic structures, human health and longevity, how people interact with and relate to one another and in groups, national foreign policy, and a myriad of other socio-cultural-economic factors. It's not by chance Social Scientists, including anthropologists, sociologists, economists and others, study food origins, systems, markets and other variables as one way of researching, analyzing and describing cultures and societies.

Since September, 2001 the Kellogg Foundation has been bringing together a diverse group of people in the U.S. to spend one year as Kellogg Foundation Food & Society Policy fellows. These fellows are paid a modest stipend of 30,000 for the year which covers their expenses as they focus on researching and writing about specific areas of food policy and society. These areas usually are based on what the fellows do in their careers--but the one-year fellowship allows them to focus on a couple specific areas, dig deeper, and think and write without the day to day press of their regular career responsibilities. All fellows have in common the fact that they work in the food and agricultural industries or have careers very closely allied to the industries. (You can read a complete overview of the Kellogg Food & Society Policy Fellows Program here.)

This year's class of 10 fellows started their fellowship in September of 2007 and will complete their year in December, 2008. The 2007-2008 fellows are a diverse group from many walks of life. They include a university professor from South Dakota, a physician from Oakland, Califronia, an organic farmer and writer from California's Central Valley, an accomplished nutritionist, two journalists/writers, a grass-roots organizer, a manager of a sustainable agricultural development organization in Appalachia, a natural and sustainable foods businesswoman and activist, and a female dairy farmer and freelance writer. (You can read the names and complete biographies of all 10 fellows here.)

The aim of the Kellogg program is to enable its fellows to begin to acheive the five key objectives summerized below during their one-year experience. And once they return to their careers full-time to continue to achieve the objectives on a more long-term basis.

The five key objectives are:

>Influence development of policies at the local, state and federal level advancing sustainable food and farming systems that produce foods that are healthy, green, fair, and affordable.

>Improve and increase media communications to catalyze cultural shifts around issues pertaining to the advancement of sustainable food and farming systems that produce foods that are healthy, green, fair and affordable.

>Raise the profile of the fellows as food system, agriculture, and health experts among media and policy makers.

>Build capacity and leadership in communications and policy work of food system, agriculture and health experts.

>Build a cohesive group of food system, agriculture and health experts who collaborate on shifting policies to affect change toward sustainable food and farming systems that produce foods that are healthy, green, fair, and affordable.

We like the Kellogg Food & Society Fellows Program for a number if reasons (in no particular order). First, the focus on healthy, sustainable, green, food fairness and affordability are great goals. These goals need places like the Kellogg program to incubate, develop and be communicated, so that others can then apply the new concepts and ideas in the food industry. Communication is key and the program focuses on it.

Second, we like the concept of bringing a diverse group of people together--from farmers and writers to physicians and nutritionists. Although the fellows work most of the time at their home basis, they meet often during the year with each other as well as develop a collaborative process via email, telephone and elsewhere.
Third, we like the programs focus on not just academic research and writing but also other more mainstream audiences and media. Fellows write articles about their work in a multitude of media--from academic journals to major consumer newspapers and magazines, blogs, industry trade publications and elsewhere.
Lastly, we like the integrated focus on policy, actual food production and farming and related sectors. Only by looking at food and society as a whole can one began to understand and make an impact on a system such as food production and distribution. Policy is a part of the whole--including markets--and needs to be understood as such. Kellogg is doing that.

Members of the current Kellogg fellows class have already published articles and papers on issues of food, agriculture and society in a myriad of publications, ranging from the Fresno Bee newspaper in Fresno, California and the Boston Globe newspaper, to the TreeHugger environmental blog, the agricultural publication and Nebraska Farmer magazine. (You can view and read a complete list of articles authored by the 2007-2008 Kellogg fellows class and past classes here. Kellogg updates the site with new articles often as well so you can check save this link and check back from time to time.)

The industry and social issues of health, environmental sustainability, fair trade, and affordability couldn't be more timely to address than they are at present. These four issues are at the top of the food and agriculture industries' radar screen and are key for today's consumers. The issues also are "hot button" ones in the U.S. at the federal, state and local policy levels. Farm legislation, environmental policy, new health regulations, labor issues and food affordability all are the current subjects of government policy makers at all three levels.

Programs like Kellogg can help address these issues in an intelligent and informed manner. Having people from diverse walks of life and careers--from the dairy farmer to the physician--allows an examination of these issues from different perspectives. We look forward to watching the 2007-2008 Kellogg fellows class members--and reading what they write--for the rest of their term and beyond. New ideas are needed and solutions to current problems are much better discussed and arrived at through information and communication. So, get thinking and writing Kellogg Fellows class of 2007-2008. We're all looking forward to reading what you have to say on the issues.

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