Student delegates explore global food issues at national conference

| Contributing Reporter

Juniors Susie Pasternak and Alaa Itani served as Washington University’s two delegates for the 9th annual Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights (NUCHR) last month.

Undergraduate delegates from all across the country gathered in Chicago from January 19 to 20, for a national student conference on the current global food crisis.

The aim of the conference was to examine the inequalities and human rights implications of current food policies and to discuss the political, economic, and social forces driving global food distribution and agricultural policies so as to identify causes of and potential solutions to modern-day famines.

The University sent an email to inform all International Studies majors about the conference earlier in the year. Previous conference topics have included urban slums, human trafficking, and American HIV/AIDS policies.

The NUCHR is the largest undergraduate student-run conference on human rights in the country. Its program includes lectures, panels, group-discussions, specific case studies and experiential learning trips. 37 delegates attended the conference from schools such as New York University, the University of Chicago and Brown University.

It featured lectures from President Raymond C. Offenheiser of Oxfam America and Roger Thurow, a retired journalist for “The Wall Street Journal.”

Delegates also gained firsthand experience in exploring food-related human rights abuses in the country through a community-based learning trip in Chicago.

“It was interesting to hear so many different perspectives from the speakers themselves, as well as having two opposing views in the same panel,” Itani said.

“I think the good range of students and speakers in the conference really gave us a diversity of opinions,” Pasternak added. “We’ve been very inspired by the work that Northwestern students did in putting together this conference and we hope to start something similar on campus too.”

Washington University anthropology professor Glenn Stone served as a panel leader at the conference.

“The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone, yet we have enormous numbers of people going hungry,” he said. “Saying it’s a distribution problem trivializes it by making it sound like all we need to do is tweak our delivery system. It is much more systemic. We heavily subsidize productions of non-food crops. [Farms] don’t have to pick up the tab for a fouled countryside, tortured animals, depleted aquifers, dead zones, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

Food-related issues continue to proliferate in developed countries. According to the US Department of Agriculture, around 15% of the population experience some form of food insecurity each year, and around 5-6% experience severe food insecurity.

At a local level, Bon Appétit, the University’s caterer, has been involved in several programs to contribute its small bit toward tackling the global food crisis. The groups include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Equitable Food Initiative and TEDxFruitvale.

As a result of Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork program in 1999, at least 20% of its ingredients originate from small, owner-operated farms in the local area. Since 2011, the program has expanded to include mid-size poultry and hog farms, cattle ranches, dairies, and seafood—covered by the Fish to Fork program.

“We believe buying locally is as much about flavor as it is food security; investing in local food sheds makes long-term sense,” said Jill Duncan, director of marketing and communications for Bon Appétit. “In 2010, we reached a goal of working with 1,000 Farm to Fork farmers, fishers, and artisans.”