ESW's Fifth Annual Summit on Sustainability Focuses on Food Security and Sustainability


Keynote speaker Beth Osmund stressed the importance of eating quality food and making smart consumer choices. Photo by Amanda Hermans By Amanda Hermans

Over 100 students and Evanston community members gathered on Friday at Northwestern for the fifth annual Northwestern University Summit on Sustainability (NUSOS), hosted by Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). This year’s summit was themed, “Your Plate, Your Planet” and focused on food security and sustainability.

Over the course of the day-long summit, NUSOS featured five different sets of speakers and panels, all inspired and sponsored by different campus organizations. Topics ranged from sustainability in campus dining, to zero-waste grocery stores to food deserts in Chicago.

NUSOS is the education and outreach branch of ESW, which is a group that is otherwise primarily focused on hands-on engineering projects. Kate Gladstone, a co-project manager of NUSOS, said the summit aims to make issues on sustainability more relatable and accessible to students and community members.

“It’s really important to put a human face behind those ideas,” explained Kate Gladstone, one of the co-project managers. “It shows that these are attainable goals and there are people working towards them and there are things that we can take on.”

The first session was called “Sustainable Meal Plans: How Far Does Your Food Travel?”, and was presented by Leila Virji, the sustainability specialist at Sodexo. She spoke about Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Plan, which promotes nutrition, environmental protection, local sourcing and diverse job training. She described Sodexo’s flexibility in working with each of their campuses to create sustainability plans that fit individual communities and advocated for student involvement in campus food.

Panelist Mark Thomman-- CEO of FarmedHere-- addresses the crowd during the modern farming panel. Photo by Amanda Hermans

The second session was a four-speaker panel titled “How Do We Feed the World?: Perspectives on Modern Farming.” The panelists represented a wide array of agricultural experiences, including aquaponics, roof-top gardens, industrial agriculture and family owned farms. Each had different but complementary ideas on how to feed the growing world population affordably and sustainably.

Dr. Ty Witten, the cotton, soybean, specialty crop and seed treatment systems lead at Monsanto, summed up the farmers’ collective goals: “The key piece is nutritious, safe and affordable food.”

After a lunch provided by Whole Foods, three Chicagoland panelists spoke about local food deserts in the panel “Hungry for Progress.” Gerry Maguire, the internal manager at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, explained that education and networking can help fight hunger in the Chicago area.

“As we strive to end hunger in Cook County, we appreciate this opportunity to discuss how our community can work together to ensure nutritious food options for all people in need,” he said. “Everyone can play a role in the fight against hunger.”

The final session before the closing keynote was presented by Joshua Blaine, store manager of in.gredients, a zero waste grocery store in Austin, TX. He spoke to the engineering side of sustainable food production and retail packaging.

Finally, Beth Osmund, a successful small farmer and a self-proclaimed speaker, activist and educator for Slow Food Chicago, spoke about her experiences in the farming business and food industry. Slow Food Chicago is the Chicago branch of the larger food and farming organization whose mission is “good, clean, and fair.” Through outreach, education, and projects, they are trying to bring sustainable and affordable food to all corners of the globe. Osmund advocated for action and inspiration from the audience. She insisted that individual choices in stores and restaurants can make a big difference.

Summarizing all of the day’s messages, Osmund stated, “Real food and real work are valuable things.”

Danielle Butts, a co-project manager for NUSOS, said she was very happy with the event’s success. The NUSOS team exceeded their audience attendance goals and said they were happy with the messages that the speakers brought to Northwestern.

“We live in the opposite of a food desert on a college campus” Butts said. “I think it’s good to hear what’s happening outside of Northwestern… and how you can change and benefit the community once you graduate.”

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