07 Nov IHC Public Humanities Fellow-Designed Project Closing Interview: MacKenzie Wade
November 7, 2023
MacKenzie Wade is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology. She studies changing cultural perceptions of edible insects and participates in community education of the environmental, social, and health impact of the food we eat. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, Wade worked this summer with Food Tank, a research and advocacy nonprofit organization devoted to storytelling that highlights how food and agriculture can be the solution to some of our most pressing environmental and social problems.
Tell us about your fellow-designed project partner.
This summer, I partnered with Food Tank, a leading food systems research and advocacy non-profit organization. As part of my Public Humanities Fellow-Designed Project, I organized a series of public Summits centered on food systems change in partnership with the Biden-Harris Administration and in collaboration with university partners, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Environment Programme (UNEP), Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
What were the goals of your project, and what was your role in achieving them?
This summer marked an important time for public food systems dialogue at the local, national, and international level. The Farm Bill, the most impactful legislative package that shapes our food system, will expire and go to congressional vote this December. Coinciding with Farm Bill momentum, the Biden-Harris Administration launched the “White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities” in March 2023 as part of the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, marking governmental recognition of the interconnected relationship between food, health, and inequality. Next month, these national conversations around food will be amplified internationally at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28).
The goal for the Food Tank and White House summer 2023 event series was to bring together diverse stakeholders including academics, policymakers, farmers, local journalists, businesses, and grassroots organizers in conversation and to ultimately inform a White House Listening Session, white paper publication on the National Strategy, and food-related programming at COP28. Each event was open to a wide public audience in person and online and was themed around an aspect of the National Strategy, including “Advancing Food is Medicine Approaches,” hosted in Boston with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and “Empowering Eaters: Access, Affordability, and Healthy Choices,” hosted in Chicago with Farmer’s Fridge. Each Summit featured diverse panel conversations and concluded with attendee breakout sessions led by university faculty.
As one of the head organizers for the event series, my role was to ensure the smooth completion of each event. I met weekly with Food Tank’s co-founders and held regular update meetings with our White House and university partners. Leading up to each event, I assisted with the agenda content, invited speakers, hosted panel prep-calls, collected recorded remarks from congresspeople and city mayors, arranged with the venue, updated webpages and Eventbrites, sent attendee emails, coordinated the photographer, organized catering, arranged for on-site meetings between partners, and helped create print and digital materials. During each event, I managed a team of volunteers, coordinated all speakers from arrival to the stage, ensured a smooth run of show, assisted the audio-visual team, coordinated security for high-level speakers and networked with attendees. After each event concluded, I sent follow up emails to all speakers and event partners and shared curated photo albums from the day.
Additionally, one of the White House’s main goals was to increase commitments from organizations including universities, cities, medical centers, philanthropic groups and companies to make changes in line with the National Strategy. As part of the series, I also reached out to over 120 committed organizations to coordinate video submissions to be played during the event. After the close of the series, the White House reported they had received an extensive increase in commitments to the National Strategy.
What were some of the highlights of the experience?
Though I was excited about the potential for the event series, I was worried that the dialogue would not feel productive for truly influencing food-related policy. After follow-up conversations, however, we found that event attendees, panelists, and partners felt they had built lasting relationships and were able to communicate suggestions for the National Strategy as a direct result of the events. After meeting at the Chicago Summit, for example, one of the White House Senior Advisors visited a farm and had dinner with the farming family. Whether or not these results have real impact at the community level, as an event organizer, I feel that the relationships that arose from the conversational space I helped create made the series a success. I was also so honored to meet people leading influential food systems work in their local communities and to help provide them the stage to share their work and advocate for change.
What did you learn?
Through my training within the Public Humanities Fellowship Program, I felt I was able to effectively communicate across the boundaries of academic, private, and public spheres and to help achieve the goals of the event series. Throughout the experience, however, I learned so much about successful event organization necessary in the lead up, execution, and follow-up to each event. I became a much better communicator through managing event partners, speakers, photographers, my internal team, catering staff, and large groups of volunteers. I was responsible for nearly all of the small details of each event and had to ensure I was fully organized, communicating clearly and asking the right questions when need be. In conversations with my IHC mentor, we discussed how to be an advocate for yourself within a networking setting and one of my most valuable takeaways from the event series was learning how to effectively communicate my evolving role as an academic and public food systems events organizer.
How has this experience shaped your thoughts about your future work in food systems research and advocacy?
Food systems issues require effective partnerships across sector divides and, through my Fellow-Designed Project with Food Tank, I was able to play an instrumental role in building and furthering these partnerships. As a public humanist, I am part of a community of public scholars who challenge traditional ideas of how knowledge is produced and who may participate in its production. While I often struggle to balance publicly engaged and conventional approaches to scholarship, the Public Humanities Program has provided me with the tangible skills, theoretical base, and ability to curate an experience that supports and supplements my public scholarship. Through my partnership with Food Tank, I was able to contribute to the development, execution and completion of an event series that served as a model for effective university-public partnerships and which will have lasting implications for farmers and eaters. I am excited to continue this work through my dual role as an academic and public food systems events organizer.
Click here to learn more about the IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Program.