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Jane Zhang: How to Eat Better For the Planet, Starting Today

Jane Zhang: How to Eat Better For the Planet, Starting Today

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Jane Zhang, the creator and host of Farm to Future, a podcast about the future of food. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Welcome to the blog, Jane! What challenge are you addressing with Farm to Future?

Jane: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! The way that we eat food today is mostly produced using a massive amount of chemicals, factory farming, and industrial processes that are destroying our land, ecosystems, and climate. And yet, we each have three meals a day where we can make a difference! Many of us want to make better decisions, but there's a lot of misinformation out there about what's healthy and truly "sustainable," so I started Farm to Future, a podcast all about how to eat better for the planet, starting with our decisions today.

Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?

Jane: I was fortunate to grow up in a family that cared about high-quality, nutritious food—even as struggling first-generation immigrants, my parents always put time and energy into cooking us delicious and whole meals. In college and grad school, I learned about how our food system is contributing to climate. I decided to research alternative farming methods for tomatoes, and later studied acorns as a food source. I learned that what's good for the planet is not always an obvious choice. You have to look at factors like carbon emissions, water usage, energy usage, soil health, but also human factors like culture and nutrition. Plus, food is something that brings us joy. What better way than to eat our way to a sustainable future!

Spiffy: What better way indeed! Can you elaborate on how the podcast is helping you to work towards a more equitable world?

Jane: Often, "sustainable food" means expensive food that not everyone can afford. But it doesn't have to be that way! My goal is to share ways we can all eat better for the planet, whether that's through growing your own food, shopping smarter to avoid food waste, or trying new foods and different ways of cooking.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent podcast milestone and the impact that it makes.

Jane: We've had some fascinating farmers, chefs, and food startup founders on the podcast. Chef Dr. Mike taught us his rule of "under five to stay alive”—when in doubt, stick with foods that contain 5 or fewer ingredients! We also had the most famous farmer in the world, Joel Salatin, speak about how we can restore the land by bringing plants and animals back together on farms, like how nature intended.

Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?

Jane: I used to think that eating only plants was the best thing for the planet. For four years, I was vegetarian, and even tried going vegan and raw vegan. Fruits and vegetables are amazing, but ONLY eating plants mean you might not get all the nutrients you need. I also wasn't able to enjoy the Chinese foods I grew up with. And so, over time, I transitioned back to a more balanced omnivore diet that I can enjoy with my family.

Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Jane: You might have heard that beef uses a lot more water to produce than plant-based crops. But, I learned from the movie Sacred Cow that about 94% of the water used for beef production is actually natural rainfall. A pound of beef only requires 280 gallons of "blue water" (surface or groundwater), which is less than the amount required to produce a pound of rice, avocados, walnuts, or sugar.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Jane: Here's a fun challenge: become a food detective for a night! At dinner, ask your parents where they bought their ingredients from. Can you find out where they were grown? Look at the packaging for information about the farms, and search them up on Google to see where your food is coming from.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Jane—it’s been an honor!

Jane Zhang is the host of Farm to Future, a podcast featuring farmers, chefs, and food brands about the future of food. Her passion for sustainability led her to study urban agriculture at McGill University, and later author a children's book about eating acorns while at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Today, Jane is passionate about teaching people how to better nourish our bodies and the planet. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 4, 2022)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.