09:16 AM

Ohio State convenes Buckeye Summit to tackle hunger and food insecurity

Columbus, Ohio – Approximately 600 members of Buckeye Nation convened for change at the inaugural Buckeye Summit on April 14. Delegates from 17 states and as far away as London and Bejing engaged in an interactive town hall focused on one of the most complex and important issues of our time: food security.

Despite the fact that the global farming community is producing enough food, thousands of Ohio families, 17.4 million U.S. households and nearly 1 billion people around the world don’t have enough to eat. Buckeye Summit is part of a new model for engagement connecting Ohio State researchers, alumni and passionate students to discuss real solutions to such global problems as food security.

Ohio State President Michael Drake told the group, “There are 530,000 Buckeyes around the world – an amazing number. If we can harness its focus and collective power, we can really make a difference.”

Recommendations on how leveraging the power of Buckeye Nation can address food security included:

  • Build partnerships with institutions, industries and nonprofits that area already working on the problem – and add value to their process.
  • Harness the power of the Athletic Department to create awareness (food drives could coincide with games/spirit events).
  • Empower the 535,000 alumni by giving them opportunities, ideas and best practices to impact their communities.

During the event, delegates heard from a number of speakers, including Catherine Woteki, chief scientist and undersecretary for research, education and economics in the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Patricia Cunningham, director of social change in the Ohio State’s Office of Student Life; Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America; and Matt Habash, president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Discussions centered on some of the issues critical to enhancing food security, including improving access to healthful foods and grocery stores (one example of the shortage: there are no grocery stores in Vinton County), reducing food waste, addressing the high cost of healthful foods versus the low cost of fast food, acknowledging a lack of information/education, and revising food regulations and policies that are off the mark.

Delegates also considered the reasons why it’s important for Ohio State to make a significant effort to address food security. Ideas included:

  • As a land-grant university and cornerstone of the community, we have the moral and civic obligation to act.
  • Ohio State has the profile and partnerships to lead this effort. When the institution takes a stand on something, people pay attention.
  • As a research hub, Ohio State has the unique capacity to create new knowledge and develop intervention strategies by engaging a broad variety of disciplines.
  • For a university to be relevant, it needs to be engaged in important issues on a local, national and international level.

Ohio State University Alumni Association President Jim Smith convened a panel of Ohio State experts including Jill Clark, professor of public affairs; Bruce McPheron, interim executive vice president and provost; and Sheldon Retchin, CEO of the Wexner Medical Center and executive vice president of health sciences.

Retchin observed, “We have a public health paradox. Obesity is not a sign of wealth – it’s a sign of poverty. A teenage boy gets 10 percent of his calories from soda. That’s a culture we need to reverse and it’s a public health hazard. We must all take part in addressing this – it’s all hands on deck.”

McPheron said, “If you took Ohio children who are food insecure and brought them to our campus, you’d fill Ohio Stadium six times with a line still outside. Ohio State is in every community in Ohio. Not just 88 counties, every community. There’s no reason we can’t take all the knowledge and insight we have here into all of those communities to help effect change.”

Clark, who conducts research on agrifood system policy and practice, said, “We can be game-changers. This campus can be a land lab where we discover best practices and find better ways to feed our communities.”