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Tech for Tomorrow’s Table: Charting a Course for the Food Frontier

Reference: BioEnterprise

Lenore Newman, Director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at UFV, Bioenterprise SIAC Advisor, and culinary geographer dishes on the intersection of science, culture, and food – from fermentation and cellular ag to diversity and inclusion across the sector

By Tabitha Caswell for Bioenterprise

Past, present, future and from all corners of the globe, few leaders in agriculture perceive the world as Lenore Newman does. From the briny open air on the shores of Sechelt, British Columbia to the echo in the halls of prestigious Canadian universities, her story is one of exploration and discovery, centered around a deep and personal connection to food.

An entrepreneur, an academic, an author, and an advocate, Lenore casts a wide net. Here, she shares bits of wisdom from her broad collection of treasures – where the lines separating culinary and cultural delights, scientific wonders, and healthy capitalism blur.

Riding the Wave

Raised amidst the rhythmic ebb and flow of western Canadian tides, Lenore Newman’s early days were spent thinking of the daily catch. The family’s fishing business formed her initial understanding of the relationship between food and industry. But beyond the horizon of the Pacific, a bigger world beckoned with the promise of satisfying a hungry mind, leading her far from home.

After a deep dive into Applied Physics at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Lenore’s wanderlust drove her out to travel and explore the planet, both geographically and socially, revealing a desire to know more.

She honed her expertise earning a master’s degree in environmental studies and a doctorate in complex adaptive systems theory at York University. During her postdoc, Lenore learned to navigate the labyrinth of government and policy, mastering the art of marrying theory with practicality.

Beyond academia, Lenore’s pen has chronicled her insights on the future of farming and food issues. As an author of three books and numerous scholarly articles, her writings reflect a harmonious blend of her seaside beginnings, research and scholarly pursuits, and adventures across the globe.

Today, as a key member of the Science and Innovation Advisory Committee (SIAC) with Bioenterprise and the director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV)Lenore is poised to tackle food security issues from all angles.

Deconstructing Food Security

At UFV Lenore leads from the interface of industry, government, and academia. While technically a professor, she describes her role: less teaching and more project management, running her lab like a think tank to develop a new way of looking at things. She says, “Industry brings me problems; I get my team on them, and we solve them.”

Working outside the traditional academic structure with the ability to initiate real change at the policy level has proven to be highly effective for her team at the lab. Throughout her career, Lenore has witnessed smooth functioning food systems in other countries and aims to bring this perspective to our system here. “I really do believe in what the Dutch call the triple helix of academy, government, and industry. These three entities should talk to each other and work together.”

While Canadian agriculture undoubtedly has challenges to overcome, Newman is quick to defend criticism, saying it has demonstrated resilience and efficiency, especially during challenging times like the pandemic.

However, like the Dutch, she says the government should ensure that the food offered meets essential criteria, grounded in science. Moreover, transparency is crucial. If companies feel the need to hide their practices through legislation, they’re likely not adhering to ethical standards. As she puts it, people shouldn’t need advanced degrees to make informed food choices.

Lenore says, “Food security is about providing food that is healthy, environmentally just, available, costs the right amount, and also hits cultural needs.” She explains that at its core, food security should be a simple assurance for consumers, who already struggle to juggle their daily responsibilities. However, society often shifts blame to the individual, expecting them to meticulously analyze labels rather than holding governments accountable.

Canada is a young country compared to others around the world, and in its infancy, we have more to learn. Our hectic pace of life in North America has influenced our perception of what food should be and it has affected our relationship with it. Here, the food system will evolve alongside our developing culture.

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