Hi Vivien! Can you tell us about your background and what led you to join EIT Food?
My first degree was in Accountancy and then I completed two Master’s degrees – one in Applied Economics and the other in European Project Management. As a Frenchman, I have always been passionate about food and I am particularly dedicated to reducing food waste. I got to the point in my career where I really just wanted to focus on something that I cared about; so joining EIT Food enabled me to combine my passion for improving the food system with my knowledge and experience of project management.
Impressive! Can you tell us more about your role at EIT Food?
My responsibilities as Programme Manager of the Education team are two-fold. Firstly, I ensure the smooth development and delivery of our entire online courses portfolio to the general public and professionals. We want these courses to be fun for people, to improve their knowledge of food and to help advance their career. Secondly, I lead one of our ‘Cross-KIC’ projects called Human Capital, where I am working with the other ‘Knowledge Innovation Communities’ (KICs) of the EIT to develop an education framework that will help share learning and knowledge between the KICs and identify shared solutions to common problems.
What are some of the key challenges the food system is facing from an education perspective?
For me, a major issue is that consumers do not know which sources they can trust for reliable information. I think we can re-establish this trust by transforming how we educate people and creating more engaging content that encourages consumers to form views based on verifiable, academic sources. We also need to educate younger generations using flexible modern methods that use the latest technology and approaches. Ultimately it is these generations who will see the effects of a substandard food system - to quote John Dewey, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”.
We often hear of ‘sustainability’ in the food sector, but what does this mean to you?
I believe sustainability is about using resources more efficiently and in a way that does not harm our environment. As an example, this could mean making it compulsory for cities to collect inedible food waste and turn it into energy for local people. I believe everyone must take responsibility and in particular I think we should all reduce our carbon footprint; for example, by buying locally.
Would you say that you practice what you preach and live sustainably outside of work?
Definitely! I actively reduce my consumption of single-use plastic by buying unpackaged fruit and veg locally and by bringing my own lunch and cutlery to work. At home my partner makes our own homemade cosmetics and tissues to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging because ‘there’s no excuse for single use!’ In addition, I don’t own a car, I don’t eat meat, and I compost any leftover food. In my spare time I volunteer as an activity leader for our local ‘community fridge’ charity who tackle food waste by redistributing food to those who need it. Lastly, I am part of the steering group publicising the Reading Town Meal project this year which will be providing over 1,000 visitors with a tasty meal cooked by students using local ingredients. Getting involved in my community is important to me as it ensures I can deliver impact at a local level.
You are certainly a role model in how to live sustainably. Let’s move on to projects – can you tell us what you are currently working on?
I’m currently overseeing the FOODMIO project where students are turning fruit and vegetables side-streams or novel raw materials (algae- or insect-based) into meat hybrids. This project is a great example of how to attract young people to the food system and help them develop entrepreneurial skills needed to transform the entire value-chain. As well as managing the delivery of our online courses, I’m also working on the IValueFood flagship project, where novel methods such as gamification are being used to engage with next generation audiences on food values.
As an education programme manager, what are some of the key challenges you have come across?
For me, a major challenge is identifying the learning needs of our partner’s employees, so that we can help bridge any knowledge gaps they have. Another challenge is working out how best to reach the next generation with more engaging content and to ensure that we move away from the more traditional forms of learning. Finally, my own personal challenge has been to learn how to influence experts to deliver the best quality learning outcomes, including how to help our partner experts approach things in new, novel ways.
Are there any key learnings you have taken away from your role that can be shared with others?
Definitely. My role has taught me the importance of verification rather than assumption: we need to test our ideas and be comfortable moving on if these ideas are not viable. Also, I think it is vital that we ‘unlearn to relearn’: we can become limited by former ways of learning and it is only by challenging existing ideas and rethinking things from alternative angles that we can achieve real progress. For example, using virtual reality and artificial intelligence can help us learn in new ways, while also attracting consumers by using engaging and cutting-edge content.
Very insightful. What significant food and sustainability trends do you believe are important to highlight?
A major trend is changing dietary patterns, including reducing meat consumption in favour of more plant-based diets. Consumers are learning of the health and environmental impacts of eating meat, such as the huge amount of land needed to rear livestock. Another trend that is beginning to take shape is simply consuming less in general. Once again, consumers are realising the consequences of over-consumption and are opting for minimalistic solutions, such as buying smaller food portions to reduce food waste. While this trend is still in its infancy, it is an important one for reducing the over-consumption of food, which is also currently contributing to the obesity epidemic.
And how can we all contribute to educating others on the challenges of food sustainability?
I think we should all get more involved in local events in our community. Attending such events is a great opportunity to inspire people and attract, develop and retain the talent that is needed to transform the food system. Consumers are at the heart of our organisation so we must actively engage with the public and educate them on the challenges we are all facing. To make a change, people must first know that change is needed.
About the author: Laura Elphick is a Communications and Events Assistant at EIT Food. She holds a First-Class Bachelor’s Degree in Consumer Behaviour and Marketing and is passionate about promoting a sustainable food environment to consumers.