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Resource: Empowering Eaters Summit: Craig Albanese and Mayor Leonardo Williams

March 3, 2024 – Opening address by Craig Albanese, CEO or the Duke Health System, and Durham Mayor Leonardo Wiliams, at the Empowering Eaters: Access, Affordability, Healthy Choices, and Food is Medicine Summit in Support of a National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health “The Health and Wellbeing of Future Generations in Policy.” Co-hosted by Duke University and Food Tank.


Danielle Nierenberg:

I want to welcome all of you who are here in person, thank you so much, and all of those watching online, for this Summit on Empowering Eaters in support of Health and Well-being for Future Generations. I just really love this title for so many reasons that we’ll learn about today. My name is Dani Nierenberg and I am President and co-founder of Food Tank with Bernard Pollack. For those of you who don’t know, food Tank is a research and advocacy organization that works to highlight stories of hope and success in our food and agriculture systems.

We do this with the aim to motivate, inspire, and ultimately activate positive transformation in how we produce and consume food. Again, it’s a huge honor to be here in North Carolina and at Duke University. We are coming together to support the goals outlined in the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. This is a national initiative to end hunger, reduce diet-related diseases and health disparities, and improve public health. I want to thank Kelliann Blazek and Will McIntee who are with us from the White House Office of Public Engagement, as well as Catherine Oakar who is on parental leave. They have all done incredible work to advance the administration’s really, really important goals. Their leadership has been so personally inspiring to me because they are true public servants. Let’s give them a round of applause please.

I am also inspired that the Biden-Harris administration has called on all of us as Americans. Everyone in this room, health systems, insurance companies, nonprofit groups, philanthropic organizations, local governments and other stakeholders to contribute to a White House challenge to end hunger and build healthy communities. I love that they’re using the term communities. No one in this room lives in a community that is not touched by hunger and chronic illness in some way.

You’ll hear from one of my favorite speakers today who works with food banks and she uses this term that I really like when talking about the clientele of food banks. She calls them neighbors. All the folks who are experiencing food insecurity and diet-related diseases and other issues are our neighbors, our friends. The nurses and police officers and teachers who live in our communities, they are truly our neighbors. We all need to be part of the solution. The White House’s new challenge brings in $1.7 billion in new commitments, building on the $8 billion in commitments announced during their historic 2022 conference on hunger, nutrition and health. At the conference, president Biden announced the administration’s goals to end hunger and reduce diet related diseases by 2030, while reducing health disparities. I also want to thank our incredible host and partner, the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center, especially Norbert Wilson, Deborah Hill, Kathy Kay and Jack Daly.

Today’s summit truly would not be possible without them. I also want to thank Food Tank’s team, our event coordinator, Kenzie Wade, and content director Elena Seeley, for all of their work to build an exciting agenda featuring policy makers, chefs, researchers, advocates, business leaders, farm workers, academics and other stakeholders.

You’ll have a chance to hear from our incredible speakers very soon. But I need to give you a rundown of this afternoon. To make sure we end on time, and I promise you we will. We’re going to keep conversations today very fast-paced and dynamic. If we have to cut panels short, I hope you will forgive me later and understand that we really just want to have a really vibrant discussion all day long. You will have the chance to continue today’s conversations by connecting with the speakers and attendees during our breakout sessions and our reception, which you have to stay for. There will be plenty of delicious food. A big thanks to our friends at Bonterra and Ponysaurus Brewing for bringing a lot of great beverages to this event.

Dr. Craig Albanese, CEO, Duke University Health System

Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the Empowering Eaters Summit. As Dani mentioned, I’m Craig Albanese, the CEO of Duke University Health System. It’s really a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon. Duke’s delighted to co-host the summit with our friends at Food Tank, which as you know is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that highlights stories of hope and success in our food systems. We have a wonderful slate of speakers and facilitators who bring their expertise in policy, agriculture, public health, advocacy, and other key sectors to this exciting forum today. So you may be wondering, why is a health system CEO talking about food? Well, there are three reasons. First, food or lack thereof significantly impacts everyone’s health and well-being. Second, partnerships and summits like this one hold absolutely immense power. Third, and this is personal, it’s just heartbreaking to me that there are adults and children in the US that go to bed hungry every night.

As we all know, food is a key driver of maintaining health, recovering from illness, and helping manage chronic disease. Food as medicine is a scientifically proven remedy, but many people don’t have access to affordable, healthy, or culturally relevant food. These issues are prevalent nationwide and even in our own backyard here in Durham. Fortunately, healthcare has undergone, if you will, an awakening with respect to social drivers of health. These are defined as the non-medical factors that play enormous roles in the quality of life and health outcomes. They include socioeconomic factors like income, education, the physical environment such as housing, relationships, and food security.

This is part of our mission at Duke Health. We’re so much more than, what I would term, a transactional healthcare organization that simply just cares for you when you’re ill without acknowledging the whole person and how that person’s health is affected by his or her environment. Rather, we, at Duke Health, care for our neighbors through the full continuum of life. We strive to improve community health and we discover through innovation and research new ways to heal and to prevent disease. Addressing social drivers of health is absolutely critical to doing this well.

Duke also has a role to play as the largest employer in Durham. I want Duke to be the employer that provides a pathway to economic mobility and stability, which turn will positively impact the aforementioned social drivers leading to a healthier community. To do this well, we need partnerships. No single organization, expert agency or industry is able to tackle large systemic issues. Now, I don’t have the answer to these big questions, but I do look forward to the dialogue that will be taking place here today. Healthy debate and discord will lead to innovative and collaborative thinking that will hasten impactful solutions. That’s the power of summits like this one.

It brings together a tremendous amount of intellectual capital, the speakers, the in-person, and virtual attendees and organizations like Food Tank. We need all of you, all of those joining us virtually, and your networks to help catalyze the type of change our community and our nation need to overcome food insecurity and the chronic diseases our patients are experiencing. So thank you for coming together today. Thank you for advancing this conversation and action around these challenges and opportunities. I want to thank our organizers, speakers and guests, the White House and our policy leaders for their leadership and focused attention on food security, health and well-being, our Food Tank partners, Dani Nierenberg, Bernard Pollack, and their team for their unwavering dedication to creating productive conversations and movement towards solutions.

From the Duke World Food Policy Center, Norbert Wilson, Deborah Hill, Jack Daly, and Kathy K, thank you for designing today’s program. It’s a pleasure to see such a diverse group of panelists from various sectors. Our academic colleagues from Duke and across North Carolina, community-based organizations, policy advocates and experts from across the state and the nation and key staff from Capitol Hill joining together today to lend their perspectives so we can learn and grow together. Of course, a big thanks to all those who helped make today possible.

Durham Mayor Leonardo Williams

Good afternoon everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here and bring greetings on behalf of the… And today I’m going to speak on behalf of the city of Durham and, because geographically we’re one and the same, I’m going to bring greetings as well from the county of Durham. So I bring greetings to you from the over 326,000 residents of Durham City and Durham County. This is the city of culture, this is the city of fun, coolness. I love to say Durham it dope. We are dirty Durham. There are lots of reputations outside of Durham. We say keep them, we’re fine. So trust me, you’re in a great place today. I am originally from rural North Carolina, far down east. I won’t speak long, but I did want to say that I grew up in the church and I would hear the testimonies where someone stands up and say, “I just want to thank the Lord for allowing me to see another day.” I too thank the Lord for that.

But however, oftentimes people would avoid going to the doctor and they would continue their same practices. I attended just as many funerals as I did family reunions, and it was always because of the same thing. We are what we eat. In one of the most agricultural parts of the state, we had some of the most unhealthy eating practices. That is something that’s very concerning to me personally. I’m now in Durham, mayor of one of the largest cities in the state, and we have a lot that we can brag about and I want to share some of those things. I’m going to speak these things because I want to make sure that they are an example for what we can share across the state and across our country and hopefully across our world, our globe.

Durham County and City was one of the first to incorporate a county food security officer whose mission is to provide food resources for those experiencing food insecurity. There have been several high-profile events, actually, secretary Janet Yellen has talked about. End Hunger Durham is a coalition of multiple stakeholders across our community, and I’ve personally had experience with them. Where we fed about 32,000 elderly and homeless and about 50,000 meals of those who were displaced during the pandemic with my restaurant.

Also, the Durham Public Health Department has an award-winning innovative nutrition program. They have what’s called a DINE team – Durham Innovative Nutrition Education team. This is a phenomenal program. No one else in the country is doing it like we’re doing it here. They basically work with state and federal partners to administer the SNAP-Ed programs through partnerships with our school system of over 32,000 students, over 3,000, 4,000 staff members, and also the local farmers market. Also, as not only mayor, but as a restaurateur, my wife and I really encourage restaurants to source locally with our local farmers market. Our local farmers, the Black Farmer’s Network, just farmers within the region. That’s something that’s very successful. Also, the Double Bucks program allow residents that are on WIC, WIC participants, to actually double the value of their funds to ensure that they can participate in the local farmers market.

We definitely utilize and leverage technology, technological resources, to help us map out where these resources are for residents who need them. So, Durham is doing a lot. I think that’s why it’s so special that you all are here today. So again, I bring you greetings on behalf of Durham City and County, and we really hope you have a great time in Durham. Spend money. We love your tax dollars. That’s what the mayor is supposed to say. Thank you from the White House to the state all the way down.