Part one of a two part conference series hosted by The Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation at UCI, Global Food Summit: Towards Regional Resilience, brought together UC faculty and affiliates with innovative community leaders in Orange County around issues of food systems sustainability for a focused discussion on local and regional food security resilience. Live Tweets of the event are available @CUSAatUCI.
In his welcoming statement, Daniel G. Aldrich, III, noted that 23% of Californians suffer from food insecurity and that this is the decisive moment to address the issue. In his opening address, Dr. Matthew remarked on the great capability of the minds that had been brought together for the summit. Citing that 1 in 7 people go hungry everyday while one-third of the food we produce is wasted, Dr. Matthew emphasized the immense opportunity to better understand the issue and create solutions. Orange County is a prime region to begin the journey towards food security because it experiences the highest rates of poverty in California. In fact, 50% of school children in Orange County rely on food aid.
Tu Jarvis, Director of the Blum Center at UC Davis, explained that California’s agriculture caters toward the diets of the wealthy. Much of the produce grown in our state is a luxury and can seldom be afforded by those who need healthy food options the most. He adds that although farmers want to improve sustainability, they need environmental regulations to work for them too. Thus, one challenge is finding a balance that will best benefit both the producer and the poor consumer.
Professor Jay Famiglietti, UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, awed the summit with a sobering image of the progression of California’s drying climate from 2002 through 2014. Without new water coming into the watersheds, the state relies heavily on groundwater that has been collected over hundreds of years and takes almost as long to replenish; Most of this water is used for California food production. This problem is not unique to California; however, Famiglietti noted that 21 of 37 watersheds across the world are now beyond the sustainable tipping point. Of those, 13 are severely threatened. The implication being that these watersheds will be lost indefinitely.
One solution was presented by Greg Mitchell, Co-Director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology at UC San Diego. Research has unveiled the potential of algae to be a super crop, which can be grown using seawater. Benefits include being a substitute for fuel and animal feed while requiring far less land and water to produce in comparable quantities to the crops it would replace (namely, alfalfa). Additionally, algae are 50% more efficient at producing oxygen than terrestrial plants.
The panel on Food Security in Orange County composed of Christina Hall, Director of Orange County Food Access Coalition, and Lara Fisher, Executive Director of South County Outreach, discussed how we are part of a regional food system. We must think beyond our neighborhoods, our city limits, and on a scale that considers the greater region in which we live. 1 of 3 families in Orange County is food insecure. Hall described a decreasing trend in water access to community gardens, which ultimately threatens food access to many lower income communities in the county. She added that food is what families sacrifice to make ends meet. Many costs are fixed, thus food becomes the one area where families have a choice to spend less even if it means going hungry. There is a sense of dignity given to people when they are able to bring food home to their families. Likewise, because of the abundance of food in Orange County, there is a humiliation factor when families can’t afford a healthy diet. More importantly, the panel expressed that not all calories are nutritional. It’s not a matter of how many calories people consume, but rather where the calories come from. All people deserve quality food.
“Redefining the Meaning of Food Quality for Food Security: Insights from Molecular and Genetic Science”
Panel featuring: Dr. Hamid M. Said, Professor of Medicine at UC Irvine; Raquel Chamorro-Garcia, of the Bruce Blumberg Lab at UC Irvine; Aimee L. Edinger, Associate Professor Developmental & Cell Biology at UC Irvine.
This panel addressed the question, “What can science offer to food security, beyond genetic modification?” Dr. Said shared his research on the intestinal microbiota, what he calls “the forgotten organ in human history.” Dr. Said asserts that the microbiota may provide opportunities for food security at low costs, due to its ability to produce essential vitamins and nutrients, support immune functions, improve colonic health, and possibly even contribute to mental health. Following Dr. Said, , introduced the audience to the topic of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s). The lab explores the relation of EDC’s and obesity. Results of an experiment using rats suggests that exposure to these chemicals, which are ubiquitous in everyday modern life, may play a role in the recent rise in obesity.
This conference is part of the Toward a Sustainable 21st Century series – an initiative of a foundation of global reach and a research university to do together more than they can do separately on significant unsolved problems of global society in the areas of marine resources conservation, and threats to ecosystem and environmental health caused by toxic chemicals and the absence of effective governance structures which promote sustainability.
Part two, Global Food Summit: Sustainable Solutions, is scheduled for May 5-6, 2016 and will highlight scalable solutions, bring together partners across the country and globally, and demonstrate the impact of UC beyond California. The program is currently in development and more information will be available soon.
For more information visit: http://blumcenter.uci.edu/gfs/