Six of 30 young people honored today by the University of California for their innovative work helping to solve the global food crisis are from the Berkeley campus. A mix of alumni and graduate students, they are winners of the inaugural Global Food Initiative 30 Under 30 Awards, a UC competition open to individuals around the world under age 30 who have contributed to fields including food production, food access and security, food sourcing, food education and communication, and food policy and public impact.
UC President Janet Napolitano launched the Global Food Initiative in 2014 to address how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.
The Berkeley award recipients are:
Komal Ahmad, 26, a leader in food waste reduction. The 2012 Berkeley graduate is founder and CEO of Copia, a for-profit, tech-enabled logistics company that instantly matches businesses with surplus food to those in need. Copia has fed more than 700,000 people and recovered over 800,000 pounds of food. During Super Bowl 50, Copia partnered with the NFL to recover more than 14 tons of food — enough to feed over 23,000 people in need — in just one weekend.
Ahmad says the award “demonstrates UCOP’s commitment to championing socially-minded entrepreneurs like myself.” This support, she adds, “will help Copia achieve the goal of eradicating hunger, a goal countless others have always found to be impossible.”
Ruben E. Canedo, 27, a national expert on student food security and college campus programs and policies addressing the issue. A member of the Class of 2011, he co-leads both the UC Berkeley Food Security Committee and the UC Global Food Initiative Food Access and Security Subcommittee and is actively engaged in researching and addressing the issue of college student food access and security.
“I am humbled by this recognition. This award celebrates two things: First, that the UC is willing to hold itself accountable to be better. Second, that challenges can be overcome through unity,” says Canedo, adding that “This is a village award. Students, staff, faculty, administrators and community members are being awarded for continuing to build a village that is driven to make UC basic needs secure for all.”
Sophie Egan, 29, a 2014 Berkeley graduate who is director of programs and culinary nutrition for strategic initiatives at the Culinary Institute of America, where she helps the food service industry make its menus healthier and more sustainable. She also contributes to the New York Times’ Well blog and is the author of a new book, Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies — How What We Eat Defines Who We Are.
Egan says she’s deeply honored to be named alongside 29 other young leaders “in the pursuit of creative strategies for improving the food system. This award gives me new energy as I work to advance food choices for all that are healthier and better for the environment.”
Elaine Lander, 28, program officer with the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento, which helps improve children’s knowledge about healthy and nutritious food. She oversees hands-on education for 800 students weekly and reaches an additional 20,000 children each year by partnering with 300 community partners. She graduated from Berkeley in 2009.
Lander says she’s proud to carry out the work of the nonprofit center’s founder, Amber Stott. “I get to work directly with students in the classroom and watch their eyes light up as they taste broccoli or pears for the first time,” she says. “This award honors their bravery in becoming food adventurers willing to eat their fruits and veggies!”
Laura Moreno, 29, a current Ph.D. student in the Energy and Resources Group who also is project manager for a food waste measurement program for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Nashville, Tennessee. A 2008 Berkeley graduate, Moreno is focused on research and action in food waste tracking, prevention and disposal.
Moreno says one of the main challenges of her generation is “ensuring the food system provides healthy foods while minimizing its environmental and social impact. I am incredibly honored and humbled to be acknowledged as one of the GFI’s 30 Under 30, alongside all of the wonderful people who are working hard to create a more sustainable and equitable food system.”
Lauren Ponisio, 27, a graduate student whose primary research interest is in making agricultural systems better for humans and wildlife. She investigates strategies for designing agricultural systems to promote biodiversity conservation and the links between conservation strategies and improving livelihoods.
Ponisio says she’s excited “to be part of such an amazing group of researchers and activists working to make our food system better for people and wildlife.”
In addition to Napolitano, the eight-member 30 Under 30 Awards selection committee was composed of industry leaders and influential voices in the food movement. It included Naomi Starkman, Bay Area founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats, a daily news source about the American food system that will feature exclusive content about the 30 Under 30 awardees.
“UC Berkeley is a hotbed of intellectual pursuit, a mecca of the food world and where so many revolutions, including food revolutions, started,” she says, “so it makes sense that so many young people are inspired at Berkeley to follow their passions as social entrepreneurs, in the restaurant and food industry, in community-centered programming and in the area of food waste.”
The 30 Under 30 Awards, she adds, “is codification of the beginning of seeing things become real. Food systems matter, and these individuals aren’t just studying this as a passing trend, but are passionate enough about it to make it their life’s work. It’s important to showcase them as role models.”
“It is impressive that one-fifth of the award winners are alums or students of UC Berkeley,” says Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “This is a wonderful tribute and well-deserved recognition of the tremendous talent and leadership in food systems from the UC Berkeley campus and community.”
The competition was announced in January, and members of the general public were invited to submit nominations via an online form. The UC’s GFI spread word of the event to other higher education institutions, philanthropy groups, professional networks and influential members of the media covering food and health. The 67 finalists chosen at the end of the open nomination period were asked to submit materials that were evaluated by the judges over the course of a month in five categories: planning, reach, engagement, impact and evaluation. The final 30 winners were selected at the end of that process and are named in a UC press release issued today.