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Ellen Gustafson caps Big Omaha with a swift kick in the ass on eating habits

 “Let’s change the f**king system.” 

The salty vocabulary of prodigiously successful, serial social entrepreneur Ellen Gustafson added extra passion to the closing speech at Big Omaha. Gustafson describes herself as a “sustainable food system activist, author, innovator and social entrepreneur.” She co-founded FEED Projects, is the co-founder of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank and a number of other businesses related to changing food systems. She’s also the author of an upcoming book called “We the Eaters.” 

Gustafson urged the technologists in the crowd to innovate and change the way we manage our food systems in the United States. She also said she believes innovation is likely to come from a place like Omaha. It’s clear from her presentation that she’s familiar with this part of the country as she praised the restaurateurs of Omaha, especially The Grey Plume, which sources local food. 

Some highlights from Gustafson’s speech: 

  • In 1960 we spent 17 percent of our income on food and 5 percent on health care. In 2008 we spent 9 percent of our income on food and 16 percent on health care. 
  • Improving the health care system is directly related to improving our food systems.
  • “Iowa used to be known for apples and now it’s known for corn.” 
  • Most food waste happens on the farm, in transport and for cosmetic reasons. There are opportunities for innovation here because we could feed the world with the amount of food being produced today if there was less waste. 
  • She thinks the solutions lie with millennials, young entrepreneurs, young families, young farmers and global citizens. 
  • There are positive changes: Rise of organic food, CSAs, farmers markets, eating local, fair trade. 
  • Gustafson seemed to believe that the solutions to our food problems—scarcity and obesity—might have been in the room on Friday afternoon. “People on the coasts don’t realize the innovation that’s happening here and this is where the innovation is going to have the biggest impact because the farmers are here.”   
  • She ended with a call to action, saying that changing dinner could help us change ourselves and change the food industry, but also change the world.


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