By Mythili Devarakonda
For the Diamondback

The Sustainable Food Systems Lecture Series at the University of Maryland kicked off last Tuesday, giving inspiration for students to consider possible solutions to make the food industry more sustainable. This year’s series focuses on food security and equity, featuring speakers from organizations such as the USDA and Cureate.

The Institute of Applied Agriculture at University of Maryland has been offering the lecture series since 2011 to discuss and advance food sustainability in conjunction with the strategic initiative to establish a healthy food system and ensure global food and nutritional security.

“A lot of Terps face food insecurity, which is just one small community [that is] part of our country,” said Kate Farmer, a junior plant science major who attended the lecture with her class.

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In the first lecture of the series, “The Race Against Rot: A Serious Game to Examine a Wicked Food Systems Problem,” guest speaker Dr. Amy Trubek, the chair of Nutrition and Food Systems at the University of Vermont, gave a talk about her research project — a game bridging the disconnect between small-scale farmers and low-income consumers.

“We are trying to understand a wicked problem of our moment in our contemporary food system, which is that small farmers really cannot sell the kinds of foods like whole fruits and vegetables to low-income consumers at a price that is affordable to the low-income consumers,” Trubek said in her lecture addressing an audience of undergraduates at this university, hosts and faculty.

Trubek hopes her project will allow users to have a “lived experience” in making decisions about food systems. She plans to use this information to further research food sustainability.

“She is looking at solutions for getting foods that are produced by small-scale farmers to low-income consumers in a way that the foods are both affordable for the low-income consumers but also economically viable for the farmers,” said Meredith Epstein, senior lecturer and adviser in sustainable agriculture at the Institute of Applied Agriculture.

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A food system is an interconnected web of activities that bring food from production to consumption, Epstein explained. Activities such as farming, processing the produce, sales and distribution, circulation and tackling food waste and leftovers, all form a food system. Maintaining a sustainable and friendly food system is the challenge set for everyone.

“I think it’s really important for more privileged people and people who’ve never had to worry about where their next meal will come from to recognize [food insecurity] and put thought into it because food is so interdisciplinary no matter what major you are,” Farmer said.

Food sustainability faces another major challenge — food waste.

“We’re always in this race against rot,” Trubek said, talking about what unifies the entire community despite having different values and cultural contexts regarding food.

One organization working to reduce food waste at the university is the Food Recovery Network. The student group picks up excess food at campus dining halls and College Park restaurants and delivers it to community partners to provide meals in the Washington, D.C., area. In doing so, this university is contributing to zero waste food sustainability initiatives.

“Sustainable food systems for me is thinking about finding local vendors, local foods, whether it’s fresh produce, fresh seafood, local meats and poultry,” said Shauna Henley, co-chair of the agriculture and natural resources college’s strategic initiatives.

The Sustainable Food Systems Lecture Series aims to explore a variety of topics in the upcoming weeks.

Although the guest lectures are a part of an undergrad class — INAG248: Topics in Sustainable Agriculture, the driving force behind the event — the lecture series is open for all students at this university to attend.

“I am trying to help folks who attend these speaker series have an awareness of … what we do as a community player in local food systems,” Epstein said. “We are here as a source of expertise and academics and also helping the wider university see what the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has to offer in an interdisciplinary way.”