Keynoter April Rinne: ‘It’s Time to Course Correct’

The global food system is headed toward apocalypse—unless committed individuals shift their thinking and take action now, said SHIFT20 featured speaker April Rinne in a passionate address that kicked off IFT’s Virtual Event and Expo.

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By Mary Ellen Kuhn

The global food system is headed toward apocalypse—unless committed individuals shift their thinking and take action now, said SHIFT20 featured speaker April Rinne in a passionate address that kicked off IFT’s Virtual Event and Expo.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call that highlights the need for systemic change, according to Rinne, a business advisor, author, and expert on the new economy. “The pandemic has brought our food system’s fragility and interdependence into clear view,” said Rinne.

“Our industrial food infrastructure is immense and international,” she continued. “Yet it’s fundamentally unsustainable. It’s both agile and fragile. It’s cost-efficient, yet it’s costing us the planet.”

To create a better, more sustainable world, “It’s time to course correct,” said Rinne.

“The pandemic is our opening to transition—our pause to reassess current structures and long-term goals—our entry point to redesign and nurture a food system that not only feeds 10 billion-plus people but improves the planet as well,” she continued. “It is, in short, one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our lifetime that all of you can lead.

“With COVID-19, we see multiple disruptions that our food system is ill-equipped to handle—lockdowns, trade wars, closed borders, and the virus itself,” said Rinne. “Any one of these would have created problems in our food system. All of them happening at the same time is wreaking havoc.”

To effectively address the challenges facing the food system, Rinne called for a change in approach, a shift from a consumer mindset to the mindset of a global citizen. Describing herself as a “guide into this journey into the future,” Rinne urged audience members to evaluate their future actions through three lenses: distributed innovation, regeneration, and intention.

Distributed innovation involves an open approach to sharing ideas among multiple disciplines, she explained. “As history has taught us again and again, innovation thrives when it’s nested within and connected to innovation in neighboring fields,” she observed.

“For all of you, this means get to know your allies in neighboring disciplines,” she said. “Go to other conferences beyond your domain. Invite others in, and learn to think like an ecosystem. Become a nexus, where the many different pieces of your innovation puzzle fit together.”

The concept of regeneration goes far beyond regenerative agriculture, although that is certainly part of it, according to Rinne. “The concept of regeneration says simply ‘better than,’” said Rinne. “Regeneration doesn’t see the world as a series of trade-offs or zero-sum games, but rather as a process of continuous improvement.

“I ask you to bring a regenerative mindset to SHIFT20,” she continued. “Ask yourself, ‘Where do I get stuck in trade-off thinking? Rather than setting a goal to do less harm, how might I and my colleagues design and create better than?’”

Finally, Rinne urged her audience to view their actions in the workplace (and elsewhere) through the lens of intention. “I say this because you are all innovators, and as individuals confronted with systemic problems, wicked problems, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed or like your efforts won’t really make a difference or aren’t really connected to the bigger issues. So the next time you’re asked to solve a problem or share your expertise, ask yourself, ‘Is my intention aligned with my values and the outcomes we want?’

“If we do nothing today, COVID may be the sledgehammer that cracks our agile yet fragile food system in ways that shatter it by 2050,” she reflected, urging the SHIFT20 audience to act intentionally to create a better food system.

“Steering toward a more utopian future means wrapping the very cool innovations of precision agriculture, blockchain, 3-D printed protein, and many more in concepts like oikos (the Greek word for home or household), community, and trust,” Rinne concluded. “It means shifting to regenerative stakeholder capitalism, it means investing in digital inclusion, and it means reawakening our sense of agency as individuals capable of change.”

Rinne addressed the topic of individual agency in response to audience member questions about how best to live as a global citizen, particularly in light of current travel limitations. Building empathy and awareness can start locally, Rinne emphasized.

“There’s food insecurity in our backyards,” she observed. Volunteering locally can help individuals build empathy for others around the world by fostering a better understanding “of the reality of someone else.”


Learn more about April Rinne’s vision for creating a better food system and living as global citizens by viewing her keynote session.

Registration for SHIFT20 provides access to the on-demand library of sessions for a full year.

Mary Ellen Kuhn is executive editor of Food Technology magazine.

Kelly Hensel

Senior Digital Editor, IFT

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