A team from USC won second place in the Future of Food Showcase, a competition held by L.A. Food Policy Council at City Hall on Tuesday. Participants were encouraged to reimagine the possibility for the local food system and to display healthy, sustainable and fair food in Los Angeles.

The Future of Food Showcase is part of the Food Day LA event, one of over 8,000 events held nationwide on October 24, National Food Day, to raise awareness of food system issues such as health, hunger and the environment.

According to to the National Resource Defense Council, an estimated 40 percent of food in the United States goes to waste, which adds up to about $165 billion a year. In California alone, residents throw out around 5.6 million tons of food every year, which accounts for 18 percent of the state's waste stream.

"Food day is not only about educating people and making good choices, it's not only about good food, but it's also about social justice," said Bob Blumenfield, a L.A. City Councilmember.

"If you care about issues like social justice and equity, you have to care about food as well," Blumenfield said. "When you think about good food, it is one of those things that is a determination of how long you're gonna live. It's correlated to all sorts of other things in terms of advancing in life, and be able to have the energy to take those next steps."

L.A. Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell also pointed out the inextricable link between food and education. "When you don't have access to healthy food, it really can compromise your ability to learn in school."

He urged policymakers and the communities to secure young people's access to nutrition. "Because when you eat healthy and you have access to healthy food you'll learn better academically. And education is the way out. It is a great equalizer in the society," O'Farrell said.

USC's Wrigley Institute, which won the second place in the showcase, targeted the combination of technology, education and inequality. Students brought aquaponics, a system which allows fish and plants to sustain each other, to high schools around USC and used it as a way to teach high school students about STEM and sustainability.

( Drew Jones / Annenberg Media )
( Drew Jones / Annenberg Media )

"The teachers and the students love it because, you know, fish and plants. And these things become pets for the students who want to take care of them, who want the system to be healthy," Diane Kim, director of undergraduate programs at Wrigley Institute, said. "And in order to do that, they really have to understand the biology and the chemistry of the system."

Zannatul Zannat, a participant in the project, believes that not only is the project visually appealing to students, "kids are actually interested in eating their vegetables and [are] connected to the roots again or where the food comes from."

Compared to traditional agriculture, the system uses 90 percent less water, which makes it more sustainable. "The only inputs are fish food and some water," said Natalie Hayashibara, an environmental studies major student. "It's not only sustainable resource-wide for food and for water, it's also sustainable culturally."

Bringing the project into the school system around south central L.A. is especially important, Zannat said. "Because it is kind of a big food desert. There is a lack of access to healthy and fresh food. It's kind of a neglected area."

The team at the Wrigley Institute had delivered aquaponics systems to 11 schools around south Los Angeles and said they are still working on building a network for wider distribution.