Interview: Tim West wants to save the world through food

"The food system in Iceland is almost virgin.  It has some of the cleanest natural resources I‘ve discovered, on all of my travels, the abundance of clean fresh delicious water, clean fresh protein, the pride in the ocean‘s industry,“ says Californian slow food chef and social entrepreneur Tim West who was in Iceland this weekend for the Food and Fun festival.

"I want to learn how you're safeguarding these resources - your water and your amazing fresh fish."

Grandson of the Doritos inventor

West, who lives in San Francisco,  is on Zagat's list of the "30 under 30", the gastronomic rock stars of the US today. Interestingly, he's also the grandson of Arch West, the inventor of Doritos but the younger West, however,  doesn't really consider Doritos to be a food.

"This kind of food, this mentality of spreading products around the world that are not nutritious is not something that I think has served our greater interests."

West, who intends to visit Iceland again soon for a possible food hackathon in Reykjavik in the autumn,  wants to change the way the world thinks about food. He wants the focus to be on healthy, sustainable food that's good for good for the planet as well as the people living on it. He's also the co-creator of the Food Hackathon and creator of True West ventures,  a consulting and experiential educational design agency specializing in facilitating conversations on the future of food, food systems, food hacking, food entrepreneurship and food culture.

He's also spoken on panels, advised and worked with a variety of large companies and small startups including AirBNB, Mars, The Center for the Edge @ Deloitte, Singularity University, The Institute for the Future, Nestle, Barnrasier and Intently.  In 2009, West started the UMass Permaculture project and organized a team to write their Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality in food.

Iceland already leading in the field

"Iceland is already leading in this field," says West. As an example he mentions the Ocean Cluster building at the harbour area of Grandi, Reykjavik, the setting for our interview, or more precisely, at the trendy Bergsson RE restaurant on the top floor. 

"We're sitting here, at the Ocean Cluster, a group of Start Up businesses that are focusing on growing the resources responsibly and sustainably and producing viable and valuable products. There's already kind of a start up ecosystem that is thriving here and it feels like a kind of epicentre for these conversations about sustainable healthy oceans."

Asked whether he thinks healthy food is possible for everyone and whether its even sustainable given the world's population, he answers that although a big question, healthy food is at least definitely possible for everyone in Iceland.

The dense nutrients of Iceland's raw produce

"I think one of things we have come to realise is that food flavour comes from, in the best cases, nutrient density. Food that is rich in nutrients. We can design nutrients into a Doritos chip but it's food that's devoid of nutrients. Here in Iceland you have such dense nutrients in the fish and other products I've seen. If we can respect that process and really respect the soil, the earth, the oceans and the water and the whole system at large we're going to begin to see that it will create the most value."

Watch our accompanying video interview above with Tim West on the food industry, Iceland and his recommendations for Reykjavik restaurants. Below is a TEDx talk by Tim West on the food industry. 

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