March 21, 2017

Feeding 9 Billion event brings range of views on food security to the dinner table

UCalgary Senator Lauren Bell reflects on the evening’s lasting impact
University of Calgary Senator Lauren Bell participates in the lively discussion at Feeding 9 Billion at the TELUS Spark.

Senator Lauren Bell participates in the lively discussion at Feeding 9 Billion at the TELUS Spark.

Mark Skogan

At dinner tables across the country, families and friends gather to break bread and talk about their day, their problems, or in some cases, not talk much at all. Conversations at dinner can be insightful and challenging, and it’s a place where we can feel the most at home.

On March 14, more than 200 people from diverse backgrounds came together over dinner at TELUS Spark to discuss the issue of food security, and how Alberta might respond to the global challenge of feeding nine billion people by the year 2050.

Students from the Global Challenges course in the College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation joined business leaders, industry experts, academics and community members to discuss the big ideas that could contribute to the future of food. Among the guests was Lauren Bell, a new senator with the University of Calgary, who took part in a stimulating conversation over a thoughtfully prepared meal.

“At the table, I sat with brilliant students of all levels, leaders and experts, who all had something to contribute that expanded the conversation each time someone put something forward,” she says. “There was permission and a willingness to participate. Everyone was waiting to hear what someone else might say, because it might shift the paradigm at the table — to start the conversation over and change direction.”

Family-style dinner party sparks meaningful dialogue, debate

The conversation was aided by each of the three dinner courses, which highlighted a new angle to consider and debate, from the use of seaweed and insects as future food sources, to sustainability issues around grass-fed beef, to the impact that people’s cultural and historical backgrounds might have on food choices.

“At our table we had individuals from Pakistan, Botswana and Nairobi — these are our students who bring global diversity and personal experience to Alberta, which informs their choices, studies, and research,” says Bell. “It puts our students on the world stage and for many, they don’t have to leave home — instead of closing down borders, it opens up all possibilities.”

The Global Challenges course launched in winter 2017 and is open to first-year undergraduate students from across faculties, bringing a diversity of voice to engage with colleagues and mentors to tackle the big, messy issues we face as a society. The event was meant to involve students in a meaningful conversation about a global issue, in a situation that encourages diversity of thought and conversation, like a family-style dinner party.

“I’m going to see the five Ws of food with a new lens. From production, through to what I prepare for my own family, I will think about the origin of the food, the science, the farming techniques, where it’s produced and how it was exported, or whether it’s local or seasonal,” says Bell. “The value that universities offer to the city and what graduates bring to the community, that cycle is forever expanding. It has a pulse and I really like that. This meaningful dialogue was my introduction to Feeding 9 Billion. I hope that we will be able to follow the student discoveries as they continue their quest in this global challenge.”

Plate scraps from the event will be used by Eco-Growth Ltd., a Calgary company focused on converting post-consumer food waste into biofuel through a special processing program, and thereby diverting food waste from landfills. All uneaten food was donated to a local charity.

The Global Challenges course is a signature program in the College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation, in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning