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May 10, 2019

Dave WhiteThe Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems focuses on innovative ideas and solutions to the many challenges of current food systems. In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.

Read on for an interview with Dave White, professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Question: How did you get interested in food systems issues?

Answer: I really became interested in water issues in the summer of 1998, when I worked on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. I rafted the river, and spent more than sixty nights sleeping in the Grand Canyon, and through that became very connected to the river. That experience blossomed into a professional interest in water management.

So my approach to food systems and agriculture is primarily through the lens of water, and specifically climate change adaptation in the water sector. My research and interests in food systems are mostly in terms of how that impacts other systems like climate, water, transportation and energy. Water and climate adaptation cannot be explored and researched unless you also examine these other large natural and social systems.

Q: Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.

A: My current research is looking at how food, energy, and water systems are connected in the Central Arizona region and how climate change will impact those systems. Along with a team here at ASU, we’re interested in how climate change will create vulnerabilities and risks within individual systems, and within the nexus.

The project is using a computer simulation to identify those risks and help communities understand these systems in more depth. We hope this will improve integrated management between systems. Some of the outcomes could be reimagining the kinds of crops that are produced in our region by thinking about water and energy intensity. What is the most sustainable and resilient mix of crops that would be most efficient, and also support the most local and regional benefit?

Q: What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about?

A: I am interested in transformation and intentional purpose-driven transitions in large societal systems. How do we move something like “food” from where it is now to somewhere that is goal directed. If you look at other types of transitions, they tend to be technology driven, like a change in consumption from one type of fuel to another.

When you look at food, and water as well, being curious about how the structure of that system is able to be designed or redesigned to produce the outcomes that we’re interested in. Can we collectively direct policy in terms of decreasing food waste, or increasing efficiencies? Can we improve the fit between agricultural production and the geography of where we produce it? These are all open ended questions that need to be addressed.

Q: What’s your favorite food?

A: Moving to the Southwest from the East Coast, there is something about street taco. I just had them for lunch. Just simple Mexican street taco. Tortilla, some meat, little fixings. It’s comfort food in Arizona.