“It’s about progress, not perfection. I don’t eat vegan, organic, only in season and local diet. There is no perfection or ideal – and there’s no problem indulging every so often,“ says Diane Hatz, the founder and executive director of Change Food ®.
Her nonprofit that works toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet. We’ve talked to her about all things food: the irony of food waste, the future of food technology, the purpose of eating locally, and striving for sustainability.
Diane was full of hope about initiatives around the world and offered plenty of tips anyone can implement right now. However, her message is very clear: the clock is ticking and we need to step up now. “The situation with food and climate change is incredibly serious, and not enough people are paying attention or doing enough about it.”
Hunger is such a frustrating problem, considering that we have enough food, but we’re wasting it. Your vision goes even beyond hunger: you think good, healthy food should be a human right. Can you tell us more about your mission?
Change Food®’s mission is to work toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet. That includes our belief that everyone has the right to healthy food. We believe everyone should have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains – for free. Here in the United States, if our government subsidy system for farmers were shifted to support smaller farmers raising these types of crops, we could afford to do this. Right now, billions of dollars in aid go to industrial farmers who grow corn, soy, wheat, and cotton. Why not subsidize broccoli?
Food insecure people who frequent food banks and meal programs often receive unhealthy food. It’s highly processed and high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, processed carbs, etc. This sets the person in need up for illness down the road (diabetes, heart disease, etc.). In the end, that can put the burden on the government and eventually taxpayers. So it’s in our best interest to provide healthy food to everyone who needs it.
We’ve been in pandemic mode for over a year. How did the outbreak impact the future of food – and were some of the changes positive?
I don’t know if anyone really knows the long-term impact of the pandemic on our food supply. If most restaurants will be able to stay in business if people will eat out less and order more groceries online – there are still many unknowns.
I can say the changes I have seen have been very positive. First, the world has woken up to the massive food insecurity problem in front of us. Efforts like community fridges with free food for the public helped – and are still helping – feed those in need all over the U.S. as well as other countries.
Giving walls in restaurants and coffee shops are becoming more and more popular. That means a guest buys a meal in a restaurant for someone in need. The receipt then hangs on a wall or bulletin board, and anyone can take it and give it in at the cash register to receive that meal. This is a brilliant idea because it helps both restaurants and hungry people.
These efforts are not going to solve food insecurity. Still, they help raise awareness about the need for food and are a bandaid as we look toward actual solutions to giving everyone access to healthy food.
The second change is that gardening has exploded. Seeds sold out all over in 2020, and many people with gardens expanded them. The University of Illinois reported that over 86% of these gardeners intend to continue or increase their efforts to grow in 2021.
This leads me to believe that our food system is becoming more decentralized. People are making more effort to find and feed themselves healthy food. I think this trend is only going to continue.
Many of us probably tell ourselves, “it’s not that bad” when it comes to our food waste. It could probably be much better: any advice on building new habits that can help?
Up to 40% of food in the U.S. and 50% globally is wasted – it is bad! Even though some waste occurs in the farmer’s field and in transporting, storing, and selling food, consumers have a huge role in helping reduce the amount of food wasted.
Easy things anyone can do to reduce food waste:
- Make a shopping list before going to the store – and stick to it!
- Don’t buy 2 for 1’s or large quantities of food unless you know you’re going to eat it. It’s better to shop a few times a week than to stock up and have food go bad
- Take a container when you eat out and bring home leftovers – and make sure you eat it!
- Don’t overfill your plate – have seconds or thirds if you want! But start with a smaller amount and only take more if you need it.
- Ask guests at your dinner parties to bring containers and have them help themselves to any leftovers
You’re a big promoter of eating locally. Most people are aware that those mangoes that flew across oceans are not the best for the environment. But perhaps that’s not motivating enough. Besides sustainability, what would be your elevator pitch to start eating locally?
I strongly believe everyone should look to buy food from their local area – so don’t eat tomatoes from Mexico if it’s summer in New York. Look to see what you can buy from your area first. The more you spend in your local community, the more your money stays in your area and helps other people. When you buy food from across the world, your money is going to that company across the world. We should all support our local community as much as possible.
If you want a mango and they don’t grow in your area, you can certainly buy a mango – but look for a small producer who has a local impact in his or her area. That might not be so easy to figure out, so look for fair trade and/or organic at a minimum.
The second part of eating local is eating in season. I think it’s unrealistic to think that we’ll always only ever eat in season, but try to. Find out what’s in season in your area and try to make meals using those ingredients. Also, frozen food often has a bad reputation, but nowadays, a lot of food is flash frozen almost immediately after being harvested. Don’t be shy about buying out-of-season frozen food. Better yet, buy in bulk at your farmer’s market and freeze or jar the food to eat later in the year.
A couple of years back, you gave a talk that showed how food tech companies often don’t align with the mission to bring good food to the masses. One of my favorite examples was: “We don’t need 3D printed ravioli; we need to teach kids how to cook, teach people how to garden, and get more farmers on the land”. Has the situation changed since then?
I’m not sure statistically where we’re at, but I’m happy to say there’s less chatter about 3D-printed food these days. Now we’re dealing with over-processed, GMO, fake meat like Impossible Burger – but don’t get me started on that!
More people are gardening thanks to the pandemic, but Agtech and Big Food have more money and a louder voice in the food movement, so they’re the ones we always hear about. I have a program through Change Food called “Plant Eat Share“. I’ve been pulling together information about groups around the world who are growing and/or sharing food for free. It’s based on mutual aid and is a much, much bigger movement than anyone realizes because everyone is working independently.
I’ll eventually bring all this information together into a database to show how there is a bigger ground-up food movement happening than people realize – and give people examples so they can start some type of food program in their neighborhood.
The two things I see in Foodtech and Big Food are still too much emphasis on short-term profit and greenwashing. Companies must stop existing only to make money. Make money, yes! But we also must look at a triple bottom line where community and planet are also taken into account.
How do you feel about greenwashing?
I can get downright angry. I trained as a marketer many years ago, so I understand what companies are doing. But telling the world you’re regenerative when you only have one very small division that’s regenerative is not only greenwashing; it’s immoral.
These companies now know they have to promote themselves as healthy, sustainable, regenerative, saving the planet in order to stay competitive. Rather than actually do it, they seem to find ways to twist and exaggerate. As a result, they don’t do what they should to help solve critical problems we face today. And in the process, they confuse and mislead consumers. That is as big a problem as ever.
You also said that technology is not the answer but a means to get to the answer. Are there some startups in the food & sustainability area that you find particularly promising?
I love companies looking to solve problems and make money through upcycling – like Rise Products. They use the spent grain used to make beer to make flour, cookies, and brownie mixes – and they’re delicious! Re-Nuble is another company I’m excited about – they’re converting food waste into organic hydroponic nutrients. Another product I love is FreshPaper. They’re sheets you put into your vegetable bin to keep your produce lasting 2-4 times longer.
And it’s extremely important to note that all three of these companies were founded by and are run by women – yeah! We need more female entrepreneurs.
What about the “philosophical” aspect of food? I am not sure that we are generally raising our kids with respect towards food or that our own relationship with it is healthy. What should we be more aware of?
It’s tough to generalize the entire world population, but I can say there is much, much more of an effort made today to educate children about good food and to try to expose them to it as much as possible. Some people have a healthy relationship with food, and others don’t – but, overall, we are making progress.
There are a few things to be aware of – first, it’s progress, not perfection. I don’t eat a vegan, organic, only in season and local diet – that would be impossible (for me, at least!) I don’t always eat whole foods – I see nothing wrong with having potato chips or cake every so often. The key is not to have it every day and to look at the ingredients of what you are eating. So though I might have potato chips on occasion, I look for organic without unknown chemicals in them.
I believe home economic courses should be reinstated and mandatory in schools and include both growing and preparing food. I think parents should try to take their children to farmers’ markets and/or an actual farm, so they can see how food is grown.
There is no perfection or ideal – and there’s no problem indulging every so often. Everything is a continuum, and we need to meet people where they are.
The second thing people must, must, must become more aware of is that we have huge problems with our food supply and we all have to help change it. No matter how minor a person might think it is.
Climate change is a reality – this means there will be crop failures from storms; certain crops are no longer going to be able to be grown in some places, and there will be mass migration from lack of food and water. I hate to end this on a down note, but the situation with food and climate change is incredibly serious, and not enough people are paying attention or doing enough about it.
Please wake up and care! Follow Change Food to learn more – and get involved in your local community. We all have to start doing something not just to help the planet but to help our own families and generations to come.
Diane Hatz is a nonprofit social entrepreneur who educates and raises awareness about food and farming. As founder and executive director of Change Food, she advises, consults, and develops creative projects to motivate people to take action to change the food system. She also works to find ways to help individuals and groups within the field collaborate, connect, and work more effectively.
From 2011 – 2015, Diane was the founder, organizer, and host of TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat,” an annual event that brought together key experts in the food and farming movement to discuss problems, and solutions, with the US food system.
Diane has appeared in many publications and media outlets, including The New York Times, NPR, Grist, More Magazine, Fine Cooking,and Vegetarian Times. She is a prolific writer and on occasion can be found hosting or on a panel about sustainable food.
Diane has an MA in creative writing from Antioch University and a BS in business administration and marketing from the University of Delaware with a minor in philosophy. Her claim to fame is getting her Who fanzine of 12 years, The Relay, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Cover image credit: changefood.org