Eva Antczak ’07 is program manager of the Google Food Lab, a platform for people in food policy, farming, corporate food service, healthcare, technology, corporate food companies, and academia to use their knowledge to solve pressing food system issues.
We talked to Eva about her senior thesis on Vermont cheesemakers, managing the Google Food Lab, and why technology and innovation are critical to a sustainable food system.
You graduated from UVM with a degree in environmental studies and Spanish. What made you shift gears and focus on nutrition/food systems?
Food and agriculture have always been my passions, but once I began taking classes in environmental studies at UVM, I realized I could apply those interests to the study of local, regional, and global food systems. After taking classes in sustainable development, anthropology, herbalism, food science, and cheese and culture, I studied abroad for a semester in Oaxaca, Mexico. This experience anchored the information I had learned in a cultural context in which food, agriculture, and nutrition are intrinsically embedded.
Tell us about your senior thesis on artisan cheesemakers in Vermont.
I interviewed livestock farmers and cheesemakers across the state to better understand how and why cheese is such a strong part of Vermont’s identity, and what the biggest challenges, such as government policies, farming knowledge, and marketing, were to the success of these markets. These conversations were enlightening and energizing. I knew I wanted to continue to immerse myself in food systems work.
After graduate school, you ended up in San Francisco. Did your job at the Center for Food Safety bring you there?
After two years of traveling, working on farms, and volunteering for food and agriculture organizations, I attended graduate school at Tufts University in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program. I gained a new perspective on food and nutrition policy, global agriculture, hunger and malnutrition, industrial food systems and trade, and local/regional foodsheds. I thought I would pursue food policy more deeply, even spending a summer at the USDA, but by graduation, I was still unsure which angle interested me the most.
Having never lived on the West Coast, but knowing there was a vibrant food scene, I landed in San Francisco. I took a position at the Center for Food Safety, a public interest nonprofit that works to protect human health through sustainable and organic agriculture. As a policy coordinator, I worked with the legal team on projects involving confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and GMOs.
You also worked for Farm Aid and FarmsReach.com before your position with Bon Appétit @ Google. What made you want to work for Bon Appétit @ Google?
I worked with FarmsReach, a small start-up providing services and resources to support small to midsize farmers across California, for nearly three years before joining Google. I wanted to not only explore the lens of food outside of the nonprofit, start-up world but also examine how to combine food with the power of Silicon Valley’s technology. I knew there would likely be the resources—whether engineers, partnerships, or capital—to have a bigger impact.
Could you describe your job at Google Food Lab?
I am the program manager of the Google Food Lab, which is a platform for thinkers and doers in the food space to apply their collective knowledge to solve our most pressing food system issues. We convene twice a year for summits at Google offices and between summits work on projects tied to our key focus areas. I plan all the summit programming (speakers, panels, work groups, keynotes, themes, agenda, etc.) while also managing core projects and communications throughout the rest of the year.
What is Google’s philosophy regarding food?
The Google Food program’s vision is to inspire the world to use food experiences to develop more sustainable lifestyles. We take a holistic approach, thinking beyond just minimizing our negative impact to how we can enrich the planet, our employees, our communities, our partners, and our suppliers.
Food plays a central role in supporting Google’s culture. Inspiring food experiences provide fuel for innovative thinking and collaboration among employees. By creating exceptional food experiences, Googlers will be happier, healthier, and more productive and creative.
What changes have you seen in the food space recently?
The issues are mostly the same since I finished school (buying local, food access, food waste, meat consumption, demand for organics, health, etc.), but having worked in the Bay Area on food and ag issues for the past five years, I see a huge emphasis on how to bring technology and innovation to this space at scale. Yet, while there is a lot of investment happening in ag-tech and food delivery programs, far less attention is paid to the less sexy issues that affect small to midsize sustainable ag supply chains. This presents a challenge. How do we get the money and influence of Silicon Valley to think more holistically about smaller supply chains?
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in food systems or nutrition?
For me, getting practical work experience in the field after undergrad and pairing it with the more theory-driven approach of grad school was valuable. In the interdisciplinary field of food systems, it is easy to be drawn to many issues and to lack direction. The sooner you can hone in on one area, the more easily you’ll find valuable work. Seeking out mentors early on and keeping in touch with them is huge. I was lucky to have great connections who have helped propel me through different jobs and locations, but it takes effort to keep these people in the loop and build from their networks.