Kate and Livia are 2 of 19 students participating in a northern California study tour, “Tackling Food System Challenges with IT Innovation." The tour explores the role of IT in addressing the food system challenge of ensuring food and nutrition security for a growing global population. In this interview, they reflect on the food systems with which they are most familiar.
Setting the Table for the Week
The first morning of the study tour started with Switzerland and California-based students sharing thoughts on our respective region’s food systems. The following interview provides a snapshot into this discussion from the perspectives of Livia Küng (graduate student at ETH Zurich, MSc in Biology) and Kate Hagan (MBA student at UC Berkeley).
Please share three key factors about your region’s food system:
- Switzerland is the country with the highest per capita consumption of milk products in the world, most of which are produced domestically. The most important Swiss food exports therefore include products that contain dairy, like cheese and chocolate, but also others like coffee and tea. In fact, Switzerland exports more coffee than chocolate and cheese combined!
- Due to the climate and size of Switzerland, the production of certain food products, including vegetables, fruits, fish, and staple foods, such as rice, is very limited and those products are therefore imported.
- Food in Switzerland is relatively expensive compared to the surrounding European countries, but Swiss only spend 7% of their income on food, which is actually similar to US citizens.
- California 2014 exports amounted to $21.59 billion, which is 14.3 percent of US exports (California Department of Food and Agriculture).
- California’s top commodities are milk, almonds, grapes, cattle, and strawberries (2014, California Department of Food and Agriculture).
- 1 in 7 people are food insecure of California’s total population of 38.8 million people (US Department of Agriculture).
What did you find surprising about the other region’s food systems?
Kate: I was surprised to learn that 56% of gross farm receipts in Switzerland are from the government, compared with less than 10% in the US (OECD)
Livia: I found it surprising that California seems to be the world’s largest producer of almonds, supplying almost the entire world’s supply. Yet, almonds need a lot of water to grow and California is not exactly known for it’s abundance of water.
What are you most excited to learn this week?
Kate: The Swiss people seem to have a more holistic relationship with their food—a better understanding of how their food system functions from farm to table. I hope to better understand how to facilitate people’s closer relationship with food so US citizens can develop healthier, more sustainable food behaviors.
Livia: California is the main food supplier in the US and even exports many food products to the rest of the world. I am interested to know what sustainability means in such large-scale production and how future innovation could further improve the food system’s sustainability.
This study tour is part of ETH Meets California, a 10 day event organized by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) that brings some of its top researchers and students to California to unravel the mysteries of science and technology in an exchange of ideas with west coast counterparts in academia and industry.