The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2019 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2019, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.
By Khristopher Nicholas
Food has always been a unifying theme throughout my life. Growing up in a Caribbean household, this is how my family expressed their love. Curry crab and dumplings from my grandmother, coconut bake and pumpkin from my mother, jerk gizzard from my father, and breakfast in bed for mom on Mother’s Day. Mealtime was a communal, celebratory time; it didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford to eat out at fancy dinners. And this love of food (okay, fine; obsession) has underscored all that I’ve since accomplished. While in Myanmar researching the effects of oil palm development on deforestation, it was with a political economy lens of palm oil consumption and production and what this means for local consumers. As a PhD student studying Global Nutrition in the Galapagos islands of Ecuador, it underscores our efforts in disentangling what “food access” means in various contexts. As a co-host for We All Gotta Eat (WAGE) podcast, where we discuss food, social justice, and health, it informs the questions asked of our guests, such as Roger Thurow and Dr. Jessica Fanzo, veterans in global development work and participants in this year’s Symposium. And in Bangladesh, traveling in a research launch along the Ganges-Brahmaputra, we studied the effect of environmental exposures, such as cyclones and groundwater depletion, on agricultural output, but really, I was most interested in farmer interviews—what does ‘reduced agricultural output’ mean for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on it?
In global development work, too often researchers get caught up in just that—their research. They remove themselves from the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ they were awarded a grant to travel to Kenyan pastoral lands or to the highlands of Peru. This year’s Global Food Security Symposium was a wonderfully refreshing exception. Agriculture is such a loaded, multi-faceted term. Each facet can and should be discussed until the cows come home (farm pun intended). I am so very honored to have been part of a symposium that gives each facet its due consideration. What does decreasing agricultural output mean for the health of farmers’ children? What does increased travel times to gather water in a drought mean for gender equality? What does it mean for the prices of downstream goods that rely on these products? Are government subsidies helpful and is there equity in their helpfulness? These questions and more reflect the comprehensiveness of this year’s Symposium. While there are no easy answers to any of them, it is inspiring to see so many voices in one room sharing ideas nonetheless.
In the end, there is still a long road ahead of us in our fight for global food security. And, sure, it’s sobering. But spaces like these remind us that it is not impossible. When diverse groups of individuals representing a diverse pool of fields gather to discuss a common goal, that’s when we know we’re on the right track. We need the right voices at the table to advocate not only for equality but for equity, to advocate not only for fairness for but for justice. These are the voices of women, people of color, farmers, scholars, policy makers, refugees, vegetarians, steak lovers, Sox fans, Yankee fans, and everyone in between. And truthfully, a sustainable vision of the future in which malnutrition and obesity are burdens of the past is impossible without these voices in these spaces.
In short, food has brought us together since the first cave fire eons ago and it will continue to bring us together. We have much yet to learn from each other about mindfulness, the importance of context, and that we are truly stronger together. As an academic, I have seen that many folks value reductionist research in which only one person is an expert of one field. As a global citizen and Symposium Delegate, I can proudly say that they are wrong. If there is one thing we should learn from this year’s Symposium, it is that the future of food is interdisciplinary, diverse, and promising.