Innovation at the Table

Convening and Collaborating in the Food Space

Katie Stebbins, Executive Director of the Food and Nutrition Innovation Institute (FNII), led the Innovation Summits in 2020 and 2021 and is continuing work on the FNII’s new strategic plan. Her focus on strengthening relationships and communication between major players in the food environment and our school’s trusted science is all in the service of creating a healthier and more equitable food system for all. She’s a champion of the idea that the best way to fix food is to keep gathering people around the table to work on solutions.

“What is thoroughly impressive to me is the win-win-win potential,” Friedman School Dignitas Professor Erin Coughlan de Perez said. “When I look at food products, I see incredible innovations that are good for climate and also for food security, and for making sure people have access to quality, affordable food for a long period of time.”

The Food and Nutrition Innovation Council (FNIC) Joins the Call for a National Investment in Nutrition

Created in 2019, the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council at the Friedman School brings together diverse stakeholders, including established companies and startups in health care, wellness, food, and agriculture, investment funds, nonprofit ventures, and advocacy groups. They joined together to release a joint resolution in early 2020 to call for a new national nutrition strategy.

FNIC Member and Tufts Alumna Tambra Raye Stevenson on Investing in Innovation

Tambra Raye Steveson, CEO and Founder of WANDA, (member organization of the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council) spoke with us about her vision for addressing the many challenges in our current food system, and how her organization's work with communities is opening new doors to food, agriculture, and health.

How do you envision WANDA working with other organizations and industries to create a healthier and more equitable food system?

At WANDA we believe in the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” Similar to the social capital research of Robert Putman, we know that we are better together in building back a better food system that’s equitable, sustainable, and nutritious. In other words, working with multiple sectors and organizations means that 1 + 1 = 5, not 2. Through the power of symbiotic partnerships, we can build an ecosystem that values and invests in Black women and girls, bridges the gap and resolves pain points by leveraging expertise, platforms, and proven performance. When we do this, we can scale innovation and solve complex challenges in the food and nutrition sectors.

"We need to center Black women in the food system as entrepreneurs, policymakers, media makers, culinary creators, and nutrition educators. Historically we have been hidden figures in the food system."

In collaborating with organizations, I envision a proper diagnosis for what ails the food system. From there, we can provide a more accurate prognosis together. For instance, if the diagnosis is food apartheid in my community, then the collaborative partners acknowledge and are willing to apply an appropriate plan of care that doesn’t include band-aids for broken bones or a broken food system.

Let's Meet Where We Eat!

With the launch of a new interview series Let's Meet Where We Eat and a weekly student gathering called Nourish Café, Executive Director Katie Stebbins isn't waiting for the right people to get into a room together, she and Friedman School students made a space to get the conversations started!

Katie Stebbins, Executive Director of the Food & Nutrition Innovation Institute, always has her sights on how to create new conversations around food by bringing together students, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, and non-profit leaders. She knows that the key to meaningful innovation is connecting people. With a school full of graduate students dedicated to nutrition and an impressive list of 76 organizations, there’s always insightful dialogue happening. How did an entrepreneur get that big idea? What’s next for the successful business? How can the food industry be a better ally to global health?

When you bring everyone to the table, anything is possible.

Competition and Community: Fixing Food Together

Innovation in nutrition doesn't just mean creating another food-related app, it's about connections, problem-solving, and addressing the very real issues present in the food system.

A team of alumni from Friedman School who are supporting small farmers in Sacramento Valley, California, took home the top prize in October 2020 in Friedman School’s Food and Nutrition Entrepreneurship Competition.

The Sacramento Valley Food Hub, a food distribution platform connecting beginning farmers with schools, hospitals, and other institutional customers, received both the $20,000 first prize and the $5,000 audience choice prize at the October 7 competition, which was held on Zoom. Five teams participated in the annual competition, which is held in collaboration with the Tufts Gordon Institute and open to Tufts students, alumni, staff, and faculty.

“Throughout all this growth and investment, I want to make sure beginning farmers in marginalized communities don’t get left behind,” Weiss said. “We see ourselves being advocates for farmers, because of having those tight relationships and knowing them really well.”

The team behind the Sacramento Valley Food Hub consisted of New Entry Sustainable Farming manager Jacob Weiss, N20, and his classmates Cyrena Thibodeau and Emily Moschowits, among others. Weiss delivered the team’s 10-minute pitch and answered questions from judges, who included representatives from Friedman and various food, wellness, healthcare, and investment companies.

No activities of the Food and Innovation Council shall allow or facilitate any influence over Tufts’ research results, patient care or academic programs and neither Tufts’ name nor the School’s name, nor the activities of the Food and Innovation Council, may be used to promote or endorse members or their products/services. The Council Members will be identified as such on the Friedman School’s website and each Council Member may state that it is “a member of the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council.” No other statements about the Food and Innovation Council and a Council Member’s involvement in the Food and Innovation Council may be made by a Council Member or its affiliates without the prior written approval of Tufts University.