Experts and Policymakers Gather for Food Summit

Farm Bill, child hunger, immigration among discussion topics at “Building Better Food Policy.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Executive Director of Sustainability Kathleen Merrigan discussed the Farm Bill at Thursday's summit. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
February 06, 2017

By Ruth Steinhardt

More than 35 leaders in business, farming, nonprofit and government sectors—including two members of Congress, activist and chef José Andrés and actress and advocate Fran Drescher— gathered at the George Washington University to lead a summit on the intersections of politics and food production, distribution and consumption.

Nonprofit food policy think tank Food Tank convened the summit Thursday at Jack Morton Auditorium, where topics included resiliency in the food system, global food security and the future of the Farm Bill.

“GW’s commitment to food and agriculture is expressed in a number of ways,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp, beginning with the foundation of the Urban Food Task Force “to bring together the already strong interest among our students, faculty and staff in issues of food justice, food access and healthy eating” and culminating in campus initiatives like the Food Institute and the GroW Community Garden.

Opening session speaker Rep. James Panetta (D-Calif.) said he has a personal commitment to food policy, not only as a representative of California’s Salinas Valley— nicknamed “the salad bowl of the world”—but also as a descendent of immigrants and restaurant owners.

“Agricultural research needs to be a priority in the federal budget,” he said. “Our farmers not only need that type of help, but deserve it.”

Delivering the summit’s keynote address, Mr. Andrés emphasized the need for chefs and foodies to become “agents of change” in the way Americans talk about and consume food. Food has become a political issue, he said, but it should be a bipartisan one.

“The right and the left should be united always to make sure that every child in America has a plate of food every day of their lives,” Mr. Andrés said.

He also stressed the centrality of immigration policy to food systems in the United States.

“Senators on the Hill are eating salads picked by undocumented immigrants, yet they remain ghosts in the system,” Mr. Andrés said.

At a panel on the future of the Farm Bill, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said the legislative future of food policy was unclear. It may hang in the balance as Congress prepares to reexamine the multibillion-dollar bill, which covers issues from the food stamp program to commodity crop insurance and subsidies and school meals.

“This is an unusual and somewhat chaotic time in Washington,” said Ms. Pingree, herself a former organic farmer. “It could be the foggiest crystal ball I’ve ever looked into.”

Issues apparently only tangentially related to farming must also be considered within the scope of the Farm Bill, Ms. Pingree said. Rural broadband access, for instance, could determine whether food stamp recipients could use their benefits at rural farmers’ markets. And support for renewable energy is integral to farmers, many of whom not only use sustainable power to reduce their energy costs but also may use their land to harvest wind and solar energy.

Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of sustainability at GW, said a “big tent” approach would be necessary to pass the omnibus bill by next year’s due date.

“It is going to have to be that the farmers and ranchers want it, the hunger community and nutrition assistance community want it, the people who are in this bubbling-up energetic world of urban farming want it—a lot of people are going to have to come together,” she said.  

Politics and Society, Events


Building George Washington University’s ‘Food Revolution’

November 12, 2014
Researchers, practitioners, faculty members and students analyze what, why and how we eat, propelling GW to the forefront of food studies.

Chef José Andrés to Students: Be an Agent of Change, One Plate at a Time

January 16, 2013
The internationally renowned chef served the first course of his “World on a Plate: How Food Shapes Civilization” at GW on Monday, giving students a taste of the many intersections of