Ellen Gustafson, named Inc Magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30” in 2010, spoke Friday night to approximately 60 Northwestern students and visitors.
She was the opening keynote speaker to Northwestern University’s 7th annual Summit on Sustainability, a two-day event. This conference brings students and the community together so people could exchange ideas on how to improve social justice and work towards a sustainable world.
(Watch 5 minutes of the keynote)
The problem year: 1980
According to Gustafson, 1980 was when America’s obesity problems began.
Genetically modified crops first became patentable in 1980, Gustafson said. The oil crisis at the time eliminated many small famers, which led to larger agricultural companies.
Manufactured food has now been around for more than 30 years. Although “many people herald [it] as the answer to all the world’s problems,” it has created problems without solving world hunger, she said.
The solution starts now, and it starts with you
Referencing two of today’s most popular college startups, Gustafson said, “The only way that we are really going to fix these challenges is to find the Google, find the Facebook. It doesn’t exist yet. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen. It means that we have to build it.”
Change starts with individual consumer choices. People who want to improve the food system today should buy products from companies that treat their employees well or from ones that have good environmental practices, Gustafson said.
Other than that, she advises people to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who are interested in changing the world. Doing so “is one of the best things we could do to help our own personal development,” she said.
Some people left with a parting gift
This keynote has “re-inspired me in my own job,” Humecki said.
Humecki, who is an intern for Northwestern University’s food service, said she really enjoyed Gustafson’s “3.0” food idea. People need to discard the outdated system and welcome the new one, she said.
A sustainability intern at the University of Illinois at Chicago left the keynote with mixed ideas.
“Sometimes I get very cynical about what we can do as an individual,” said Charmi Shah, 27. She didn’t know “how much of an impact we could have on a larger group, in a community, in a country or globally,” she said.
Yet, she said she hoped to speak to others at the reception afterwards, especially those who have tried to bring about change. She wanted to network and work towards becoming “part of the solution,” she said.