skip to main content

The Power of Food: Supply, Demand and What We Choose to Do About It

Devry Boughner Vorwerk
Fulbright Seminar Hosted by Global Minnesota
April 24, 2019


Fulbright Seminar Cover Photo

Thank you, Mark Ritchie; and thank you to the staff and board members of Global Minnesota, including my colleague Ruth Weber Kelley, for hosting us tonight.

Over the next several days, the people in this room will fulfill the purpose of Global Minnesota and the Fulbright Program: to promote intercultural understanding and foster productive international relationships.

Senator J. William Fulbright said the Fulbright Program: “aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs, and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”

I hope you will leave the Twin Cities with a little more knowledge and a few more friendships that will help make our world a better place.

Before I begin, I want to first note something I noticed in the program: that Cargill is invested or trades in nearly every country represented by Fulbright delegates here tonight. Your diversity of perspectives, cultures, and geographies are familiar to us. Your families and neighbors are our colleagues and friends. Our prosperity is tied up in yours. And our mutual hopes for a better future depend on the work we do together to feed a hungry world.

* * * * *

You and I just did something millions of people take for granted every day; something millions more will yearn for tonight without satisfaction.

We ate dinner.

When we pause to think about it, the enormity of effort it took to put food on our plates is staggering. For many consumers, that journey begins with our forks and ends in our mouths. But between the ground and the grocery store, our food was the product of many hands:

  • Those who planted it;
  • Those who harvested and plucked it;
  • Those who inspected and shipped it; and
  • Everyone in-between.

Today, the supply chains that move food from farm to table are more complex than at any time in history, making the food we eat more than just a lifeless commodity.

Food is powerful.

Food can be a tremendous force for good in our world. And as millions of people feel in every hungry moment, food in its scarcity can be a devastating force for bad.

At its best, food can nourish a hungry child. It can cure our ailments and lengthen our lives. Food can create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and give those who grow it purpose and fulfillment.

At its worst, food in its scarcity can inflict famine, incite violence, and stymy economic development. Food can carry disease, damage our health, and endanger our environment.

Ultimately, the formula for whether food is a force for good or bad is as simple and altogether complex as supply, demand, and what we choose to do about it. Because you and I have a choice, the future of food and the fate of global nourishment depend on what we choose to do about:

  • The things we can control;
  • The things we cannot control; and
  • The things no one yet considered.

* * * * *

Let’s start with the things we CAN control.

The decisions you and I make, including our diets and lifestyles as consumers, influence the power of food in our world – for good and bad.

As a global company, the choices Cargill makes about how we trade the world’s food have worldwide implications. As a private company, we could make decisions about our supply chains based solely on profits and losses – choices void of values, focused simply on bottom lines.

But our values drive a different business model; one that wrestles every day with big, difficult decisions at the intersection of profit and purpose – one that sees agriculture as a solution to the challenges facing our environment and our communities.

That is why we are taking action to improve the way we source three commodities that have a big impact on our environment: soy, palm, and cocoa. If left to supply and demand alone, economic forces around the trade of these goods would threaten our forests, accelerate climate change, and undermine human rights.

The bad news is: they already have. That is why what we choose to do about supply and demand matters so much.

For more than a decade, Cargill has been working to eliminate deforestation from our supply chains – helping prevent the further conversion of forests to farm fields in the Amazon, the Cerrado, and other treasured ecosystems.

But we can and should do even more. That is why we have updated our Forest Policy, enhanced our human rights protections, and are welcoming an outside advisory council to hold us accountable to our commitments.

These policies are not just words on a page. They are actionable, time-bound plans that promote responsible production and have the potential to transform entire industries.

Values-driven actions like these make agriculture more than a means to feed people; they make farmers and industry a part of the solution to urgent environmental and humanitarian challenges.

The way we source soybeans and other key commodities can save our forests. And a chicken can change a life. In fact, at Cargill we think a lot of chickens can change millions of lives. That is why we have partnered with Heifer International on ‘Hatching Hope’ — an initiative enlisting the power of poultry to improve the lives of 100 million people by 2030.

Raising chickens is one of the most practical paths out of poverty for millions of people. Here’s why:

  1. Chicken farms are easy to establish;
  2. Chickens produce nutritious eggs daily;
  3. Chicken and eggs are good sources of low-cost, high-quality protein;
  4. Chickens are easy to feed, breed, and bring to market; and
  5. Chickens grow fast.

Demand for the protein chickens provide is growing significantly. In fact, a global survey we released this week found that two-thirds of consumers expect to maintain or increase their consumption of animal protein in the next year.

So, by teaching female subsistence farmers about efficient poultry production practices, Hatching Hope can leverage the world’s growing demand for protein to help these women become successful business owners, nourish their families, earn living incomes, and transform their communities.

It is a model for progress that will improve the lives of millions, because people chose to look at a chicken as something more than feathers and meat – and because we see farmers and industry as part of the solution.

* * * * *

From creating sustainable supply chains to helping farmers succeed, there is a lot we CAN control about the food we eat and its impact on the world we live in. But when it comes to sustainably feeding 10 billion people by 2050, there are some things we cannot control — at least not on our own.

Population growth, climate change, geopolitics, and world trade policy are beyond our individual influence. But together, we have a responsibility to recognize these challenges, and wield our collective influence to solve for them.

One place we can start is trade, insisting that food flow freely across borders – because access to food is an essential human need, and a basic human right.

When trade is liberalized, open markets allow farmers to raise the food they grow best, more sustainably use land and water, and make decisions based on supply and demand – moving food from where it is grown to where it is needed.

But right now, world trade policies are not connecting us. They are dividing us. Geopolitical fracturing is disrupting food supply chains, impeding economic growth, damaging our environment, and worsening world hunger.

  • An embargo on Cuban exports restricts farmers’ access to basic agricultural technologies.
  • Tariffs on US soybeans place additional pressure on already embattled Brazilian forests.
  • Violence and political unrest in Venezuela are blocking access to essential humanitarian aid.

Problems like these often feel like they are beyond our control. Sometimes, they make it feel like the world is out of control. But hopelessness never helped anybody. And pessimism is not a problem solver.

One person cannot govern global trade policy. But working together, we can and must exert our collective influence to make food a force for good in our world. It is up to thoughtful, engaged people around the world to show our political leaders that trade is not the source of our problems. It is part of the solution to ending world hunger, protecting our environment, and bringing millions of people out of poverty.

Trade is critical:

  • To smallholder farmers from Cote d’lvoire and Ghana, whose livelihoods depend not only on the cocoa they grow, but on their ability to get it from farm to market. 
  • To fishermen in the Kutch region in India, who pull nets of fish from the sea, while dreaming of a more prosperous future for their school-aged daughters.

Their stories illustrate the benefits of open markets, and demonstrate how trade policies can either impede or improve access to food.

We need to engage in similar conversations with world leaders about climate change, nutrition, and other challenges facing our economy and environment. These challenges will not be resolved unless people of good will and great ideas come together in common cause.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo is not enough. Meaningful, lasting change will depend on uncommon partnerships, restless activism, and a shared vision for a better future. That is how we build a food system that nourishes everyone and sustains a healthy planet.

* * * * *

To make food a force for good, we have a responsibility to use our voices. We also have an opportunity to use our imaginations.

Some of the most important advances in sustainability and food security have come about because someone had the courage to exercise their curiosity.

In 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy told 20,000 students and faculty at the University of Kansas about the malnourishment he saw in Mississippi, in Appalachia, and on American Indian reservations. Expressing his hope for a better future, he quoted the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who wrote:

"Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?"

In a world where hunger persists, we need creative minds to keep asking ‘why not’. We need leaders to dream and realize solutions to feed a hungry planet.

And our world is hungry.

According to the United Nations, 821 million people worldwide suffered from chronic hunger and undernourishment in 2017. About 113 million are facing “acute hunger” caused by drought, famine, or war. These figures fluctuate from year to year; but so long as one person remains hungry, our work is not done.

To tackle world hunger, the World Food Programme is empowering restless, curious minds who are eager to find solutions to urgent food challenges. Cargill is proud to partner with the World Food Programme’s Innovation Accelerator to help end world hunger by 2030.

The Innovation Accelerator provides entrepreneurs training, mentorship, and financial support to scale up solutions that will help feed our hungry planet. It is a space where curious minds are asking ‘why not,’ and taking action to fill empty stomachs. In the program’s first two years, it has already supported 23 projects in 30 countries, reaching 370,000 people with innovative hunger solutions.

  • It has deployed blockchain technology to deliver food assistance more efficiently.
  • It has used hydroponics – a water-efficient, soilless cultivation technique – to effectively grow food in the toughest environments.
  • It has empowered smallholder farmers to bring their goods to market through better technologies, financing, and storage solutions.

But ending hunger requires more than inventing something new. It demands that we imagine new ways to make better use of what we already have.

According to the UN, one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year is lost or wasted. About 1.3 billion tons of it. That is 345 pounds of wasted food for every person on the planet.

There is power in the food we leave behind. In fact, there is enough food today to feed everyone on the planet, if we can only more effectively distribute it.

Today is Stop Food Waste Day (#StopFoodWaste) – a day that recognizes if we do better with the food we have, we can nourish many who are hungry, create jobs in our communities, and build a food system that better serves us all.

That is the extraordinary vision of the social gastronomy movement.

Instead of looking at food waste and asking ‘why,’ they are boldly asking ‘why not’ – using food that would otherwise be wasted to train people who need jobs, while feeding those who are hungry.

Using ingredients like slightly bruised bananas, activist chefs like David Hertz are training new chefs in culinary careers, making meals for hungry neighbors, and achieving social change through the power of food. David’s organization, Gastromotiva, is engaging other socially-conscious cooks in that important work – providing support and sharing best practices to broaden the benefits of social gastronomy on a global scale.

At Cargill, we are inspired by their efforts and eager to be part of the solution. We are helping scale up the movement by engaging our stakeholders and making connections across our supply chains. We are starting right here in Minneapolis, partnering with the local nonprofit Appetite for Change. Every day, they work to engage their community in growing, cooking, eating, and learning about healthy food.

Eleven social gastronomy hubs like Appetite for Change are launching this year in North and South America, Europe, and Asia – giving the social gastronomy movement the foothold it needs to deliver jobs, nutrition, and social progress in our communities.

* * * * *

Innovative solutions like these demonstrate that food is only as powerful as the choices made by those who grow, trade, and eat it. In short, the power of food rests with us as people and the choices that we make about:

  • The things we can control;
  • The things we cannot control; and
  • The things no one yet considered.

Ultimately, the formula for whether food is a force for good or bad in our lives will always be as simple and altogether complex as supply, demand, and what we choose to do about it. Those are decisions I am eager to wrestle with every day. It is work I am proud to be a part of.  It is a mission that all of us — within our own circles of influence — have a responsibility to engage in.

If we each do our part, we can make food a powerful force for good in our world – and make farmers and industry part of the solution.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

* * * * *