Sharing Sustainability: A Yale Panel on Food

by Sachi Twine

This Friday afternoon, the Center for Business and Environment at Yale, the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and the Yale Office of Sustainability hosted a panel titled “Food and Sustainability: Access and Impacts” at the Kroon Hall Burke Auditorium. The panel was a part of the Whole Foods at Yale event, following both the Whole Foods’ Green Mission Team Build conference and the Sustainability Leaders Speaker Series presentation by Kathy Loftus, the Whole Foods Global Leader of Sustainable Engineering & Energy Management. Open to the public, the panel drew a large crowd of current students, alumni, and community members—many from food production and retail sectors themselves.

The “Food and Sustainability: Access and Impacts” Panel. (Twine/TYG)


Panelists included Kelly Brownell, Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Rafi Taherian, the Executive Director of Yale Dining, Mark Bomford, Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Patrick Struebi, Founder & CEO of Fairtrasa and 2012 Yale World Fellow. Together, the speakers gave a broad overview of the pressing issues, both local and global, that surround food access, sustainable supply chains, and healthy eating.


Kelly Brownell kicked off the discussion by presenting what he considered the three most urgent global food crises: malnutrition and hunger, obesity, and the environmental impact of modern food production. Although all these issues have taken prominent positions on the world stage, Brownell emphasized the importance of connecting and integrating organizations that address each problem individually. He believes that a common voice will wield much more political power to fuel these social movements. In addition, he discussed the prospect of addressing food choices by changing the environment in which we shop. Brownell suggested using supermarkets as a “learning lab” to promote healthy eating through grocery placement and a health-conscious product mix.


Rafi Takorian of Yale Dining continued with a discussion of the university’s commitment sustainability in its food sourcing and waste management. Not only does Yale strive to provide students with 14,000 high quality and wholesome meals every day, but it hopes to raise their awareness of where their food comes from and of how it is produced. In addition, Yale University’s distinguished brand name gives it some leverage over suppliers of the region. Yale Dining, he said, hopes to use this to develop a symposium of both commercial and non-commercial buyers in the region to increase demand for products that meet their specifications and stimulate sustainability on the supply side.


Mark Bonford expanded this discussion of Yale Dining’s priorities to a general commentary on the Sustainable Food Project. The program, which began about ten years ago, was implemented as a pilot experiment in the Berkeley dining hall. Bonford explained that they were “trying to start a dialogue by using the secret weapon of really good food.” The program created new demand for sustainable practices, began to change the way the students thought about food, and even challenged national views of what institutional dining could be. This project expanded with the establishment of the Yale Farm, an intensively managed acre farm intended to give students and faculty basic knowledge of food production. As Bonford sees it, in an age of increasing urban population density, “the benefits gained from globalization owe a great debt to farms around the world.” The Sustainable Food Project hopes to expand its focus to consider what it takes to sustain cities and how it can support off-campus reform.


Both Takorian and Bonford expressed their hopes that the efforts of Yale Dining and the Yale Sustainable Food Project will produce high impact, food literate leaders. Ideally, exposure to sustainability and wholesome meals will give Yale students a better understanding of the importance of food system reform that they will keep this in mind as they assume positions with the power to effect change.


Lastly, World Fellow Patrick Struebi tackled the issue of food production and trade in a global market. His company works to employ fair trade practices to help small-scale farmers sustain their costs of living. Struebi explained that the system is dependent on consumers that are willing to pay higher prices for fair trade labels. It is ultimately the purchasing power of grocery shoppers that helps his company support underprivileged and underrepresented growers.


Although the panelists specialized in various sectors of food production and policy, they all emphasized the consumer’s role in reform the system. The points raised seemed to converge on the “think globally, act locally” mentality. What we buy, where we buy it, and how it was grown are all necessary considerations for our personal health and the values of the standards of food industries around the world. Discrepancies in food access are a pressing global issue, and it will be up to our generation to be conscious consumers and conscious leaders in the growing trend toward sustainable food.

Sachi Twine is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at