Ten questions with Diane Hatz, Founder and Executive Director of Change Food

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Diane Hatz, the Founder and Executive Director of Change Food, who will be speaking at the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016.

Heng Sinith/AP/File
A Cambodian man is silhouetted as he catches fish for his evening meal in Chak Chrouk village, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (March 25, 2016).

Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016. 

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more. 

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Diane Hatz, the Founder and Executive Director of Change Food, who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Diane Hatz (DH): To be transparent, I fell into the food movement. I had been working in the music industry about 20 years ago and realized I had to get out—I was getting too old and I didn’t feel satisfied with the work I was doing. I was offered a job at a nonprofit working on issues around factory farms and became immediately hooked on food and food systems issues. I saw from the beginning that food tied in with so much of our lives and with so many of our problems—health, the environment, pollution, climate change, etc. I wanted to make a difference, and by working to help change the food system, I feel like I’m giving something back. I feel so fortunate to be doing the kind of work that I do.

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

DH: I think there are a lot of opportunities to fix the food system, but one of the biggest ones is the vast amount of money—billions of dollars of investment coming into the food space. Startups are popping up all over the world, and billions of dollars are being invested in creating new opportunities and solving problems with food and our food system. I think what’s happening now with investment is going to change the food landscape, and I think it’s up to those of us who have been working on food and food systems issues to make sure all these companies understand the issues and understand why what they’re doing is so important. We have an opportunity to not let the next Walmart be created—we can work to educate a young company so as they grow, they grow with the right principles and the right ideals. And they understand that money is not the only bottom line.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

DH: I’m really excited about companies that are launching in order to solve problems with food and the food system. Take Wakati, for example. With a piece of plastic and a bowl of water, they have found a way to keep produce fresh much longer. This has profound implications for helping stop food waste and helping increase the wages of farmers all over the world. 

Fenugreen’s FreshPaper is another product that’s revolutionizing food. It’s a piece of paper treated with organic compounds like fenugreek and other herbs and spices. A consumer—or a farmer—puts the paper under their fruit or vegetable and it will last three or more times longer This not only helps with food waste; this helps save the consumer money because less food needs to be thrown out.

Companies like this are changing our food system, and they’re showing us that you don’t have to be a nonprofit to do good.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

DH: The two people that inspire me the most right now are Guerilla Gardner Ron Finley and Steve Ritz of Green Bronx Machine. Ron is growing vegetables in South-Central Los Angeles and bringing healthy food to places that have few options. He even grows food in the grassy space between the sidewalk and the street. Watch his TED Talk for more. He is a true inspiration and shows us that everyone can make a difference.

Steve Ritz is an educator in the South Bronx. He has just launched the National Health and Wellness Center in a school in the poorest congressional district in the country. He educates students by teaching them math and science while growing food in the classroom that they then can eat. He recently got certified so he can have the food grown in his classroom served in the school’s cafeteria. He gets no salary, works on a shoestring budget, and is committed to changing lives in the Bronx. If you need inspiration, check out what he’s doing. Watch his TED Talk.

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

DH: I believe everyone has the right to safe, healthy, and delicious food, and that belief keeps me going. If I start to feel deflated, I just look at the work of people like Karen Washington, Steve Ritz, Ron Finely, Ann Cooper, and so many others, and it re-inspires me to continue my work.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

DH: I’d say greenwashing is one of the biggest problems our elders didn’t have to deal with. Food was not marketed like it is today, and today we have to deal with companies calling themselves sustainable when their practices are not necessarily sustainable. Consumers are very confused and aren’t sure what to buy and how best to feed their family. This can actually be seen as a good problem, though, because at least people are starting to care about what they eat and are questioning what they are being fed. One or two generations ago, consumers didn’t question their food and tended to believe more in authority, so hardly anyone thought twice about the nutritional value of Tang, Velveeta, Twinkies, or other processed food. Now, even though companies might be trying to convince people their processed food is healthy, people are asking more and more questions. So, though it is a problem, consumer confusion can be seen as a good thing.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

DH: Getting a legal definition for the term “natural.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently taking comments from the public until May 10 as they try to figure out a legal definition for “natural.” Right now it means nothing, though most consumers think it is better than the organic label. It confuses people into buying food that simply is not good for them.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

DH: Vote with your fork. Everything you buy in the store sends a message to companies about what you want. So change one thing. If you don’t know what to change, only buy organic apples. Apples have so many pesticides on them that they ranked number one on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list.

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

DH: I’d like to see food deserts, and that term, become a thing of the past. I would like fresh food to be sold everywhere people live, no matter what the income level or how rural the population. Everyone should have healthy food.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

DH: Farm subsidies. It’s crazy that in the 21st century, during a time when we are battling a national obesity and health epidemic, vegetables like broccoli and spinach are classified as a specialty crop. The government must stop paying huge subsidies to corn and soy farmers, as well as to large industrial animal farms. If subsidies are provided to farmers, they should go to farmers who grow healthy food and raise animals on pasture the way they should be raised. It’s time for the government to stop supporting a broken and unhealthy food system.

FT: Anything else you’d like to add?

DH: I hope everyone will join us for the Change Food Fest from November 11 through 13, 2016. The live event will be held in New York City, but we are setting up viewing parties around the world, so we are encouraging everyone to host their own event.

This article first appeared in Food Tank.

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