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Should food systems be more natural?

Episode summary

“Is a microbe less natural than a cow?” 

This season we ask scientists, farmers, technologists and philosophers about how natural our food systems should be. In this age where industrial technology has profoundly transformed our eating habits and the landscapes around us, we explore whether we should let nature be our ultimate guide or fully lean into the technological innovations reshaping our world. 

From the traditional milpa systems of Mexico to the cutting edge laboratories of food scientists, we bring together voices across the spectrum: an economist, an indigenous leader, a food technologist and an agroecologist. Each presents their perspective on the benefits—or drawbacks—of 'natural' food systems for both human health and the planet's well-being.

[ Transcript available ]

Episode guests

Anna Lappé 

Anna Lappé is an internationally recognized expert on food systems and the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. Named one of TIME’s “eco” Who’s-Who, Anna is the founder or co-founder of three national organizations, including Real Food Media, a communications strategy non-profit, and the Small Planet Fund, which supports democratic social movements worldwide. A national bestselling writer, Anna is the co-author or author of three books on food, farming, and sustainability and the contributing author to, or featured in, 19 more. Her most recent book, named a Kirkus environmental book of the year, is Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It (Bloomsbury 2012). Anna has a B.A. from Brown University and received her Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University. Anna has served in an advisory capacity to many organizations and initiatives, including California’s Farm to School Working Group and nonprofits including Rainforest Action Network and the Castanea Fellowship. Anna is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives with her husband and their two daughters.


Johan Jorgensen

Johan Jorgensen is Founder and Partner at Sweden Food Tech, a think tank set to drive the future transformation of the food system. Johan is a speaker, advisor and mentor, giving talks on all continents except Oceania and Antarctica. He has acted as an advisor to many corporates (C-level, board and owners), and has lost count of how many food tech entrepreneurs he has coached over the years. With 20+ years of experience in the Internet sector, he has since gone all in on food. Solving the Big Question on how to feed soon-to-be 9 Billion people in a healthy and sustainable way demands all the innovation we can produce. It will be exciting times when the biggest industry on the planet gets disrupted.


Jayson Lusk 

Dr. Jayson Lusk is the vice president and dean of OSU agricultural programs. He leads the Ferguson College of Agriculture and two state agencies: OSU Extension and OSU Ag Research. Jayson is a food and agricultural economist who studies what we eat and why we eat it. Since 2000, he has published more than 270 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals on a wide assortment of topics ranging from the economics of animal welfare to consumer preferences for genetically modified food to the impacts of new technologies and policies on livestock and meat markets to analyzing the merits of new survey and experimental approaches eliciting consumer preferences. Prior to returning to Oklahoma in August, Jayson served as head of the agricultural economics department at Purdue University.


Tania Eulalia Martinez-Cruz

Tania Eulalia Martinez-Cruz (PhD) is an Ëyuujk Indigenous woman from Mexico and an interdisciplinary researcher. She currently serves as the Director of Food Sovereignty and Agroecology at Land is Life. She has over 15 years of working experience on action-research projects linked to the food-water-energy nexus and social inclusion, collaborating with Indigenous Peoples and international organizations around the world. She uses her research to advocate for inclusive research and policies that support Indigenous Peoples’ rights to self-determination and food sovereignty.


Background reading and resources

Article: Comparison of biofuel life-cycle GHG emissions assessment tools: The case studies of ethanol produced from sugarcane, corn, and wheat (Pereira et al., 2019)

News article: Meet the lawyer who is driving the lawsuits against food and beverage companies (Becky Sullivan, 2021)

Report: Agroecological and other innovative approaches (High Level Panel of Experts, 2019)

FAO report: The White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples' food systems (2021)

Policy brief: Combining local knowledge and Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge with Science for Sustainable Food Systems Development. (Von Braun, J. and Martinez-Cruz, T.E., 2023)

Book chapter: Indigenous and traditional food systems: Acknowledging the role of indigenous knowledge and traditional practices.  Blind Spots in the Debate on Agri-Food System Transformation. (Martinez-Cruz, T.E., 2023)

UNEP report: Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems: Using Traditional Knowledge to Transform Unsustainable Practices (Martinez-Cruz, T.E. and Rosado-May, F., 2022)


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Jayson Lusk on Markets and Consumer Power

Channa Prakash on GMs, Golden Rice, and the Green Revolution


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