This piece was originally published on the PLOS Global Health Blog on June 15, 2018, and has been published on our blog with author permission.

Pictured: EAT forum volunteers 2018 (Helene, Elice, Sipan, Jess, Kristian, Philip, Madison, Camilla, Tina, Amanda, Sophie, Lin, and Marius).

Earlier this week, over ‘600 of the brightest minds from science, politics, business, and civil society from over 50 countries gathered at the fifth EAT Stockholm Food Forum for two days of knowledge sharing and networking’.

As always, the menu of speakers and events was indulgent and the people, production, and produce – simply delicious! Suffering from a little FOMO? You can check out the agenda here or watch all the action here. Searching for an inspiring EXCLUSIVE?! Look no further.

As one of the twelve young people volunteering at the EAT forum, I had the incredible privilege of witnessing both the formal forum agenda, as well as immersing myself in the exciting lives and stories of the other volunteers working behind the scenes. I was so invigorated by what I uncovered that I felt compelled to share their voices and their visions, and have taken a few creative liberties below in putting together a ‘behind the scenes agenda’ that serves-up a taste of change from ‘the bottom of the food chain’.

Here are the show stopping sessions and change makers (aka youth volunteers) you didn’t see on stage.

Session 1 Avocado soup

What does a strapped-for-cash student who cares deeply about climate change and social justice do when she moves to Sweden? Goes dumpster diving of course. Milly’s urban foraging experiences reinforce just how broken our system is — she was multiple times threatened with arrest for rescuing food and often found bins locked to deter such activities. Despite these horrifying experiences, Milly’s determination remains unbroken. What was the best thing you found? “8kgs of Peruvian avocados. I ate avocado soup for a week. A whole week. How outrageously decadent!” Milly is the embodiment of an ethical and sustainable food system, and is studying Sustainable Enterprise Development with her eye on transforming business. “I’m a big fan of talking about things that make people uncomfortable in the pursuit of challenging and productive dialogue.” Thanks to Milly, the theme of this year’s forum (‘Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone’) was alive and well among the volunteers.

Session 2 From Seattle to Sweden: a sustainable export

From Seattle to Sweden to study Environmental Management and Policy whilst learning from big business (think IKEA) to reduce food waste through simple auditing processes and training programmes – Madison’s pragmatic enthusiasm is infectious. If that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Madison is putting the finishing touches on her new website that up-votes fruit and veg recipes based on young people’s cost-saving, bulk buying purchasing behaviour. So, if you find yourself with a kilogram of carrots in the fridge, Madison has you covered. Through her tasty no waste approach, she’ll guide you through using carrot top to tail in every meal. And, if you can believe, it gets better! Madison’s pun game is strong. Don’t believe me? Thyme to check out her website…

Session 3 The road less travelled

Philip is a medical student from the Netherlands with a Masters in Immunology from Oxford University. What on earth is he doing at EAT? “I’m following my heart…and my stomach.” At the age of 9, after watching a harrowing meat industry expose, Philip became a vegetarian. Since then, he’s walked the talk, living and advocating his environmentally friendly ethos. Do you have any advice for other medical students wanting to explore and connect their passions beyond medicine? “Yes! Medicine will always be there. There’s no need to rush. Take time out to explore the world and your passions. With inspiring examples of where the road less travelled can lead you, such as EAT CEO Dr Demaio, Philip is confident doctors can and must play a vital role in reshaping a healthy and sustainable food system. “We can start with the basics. Normalising discussions about diet in the clinic can go a long way.”

Session 4 Money matters

AMAnda is AMAzing. For starters, she’s fluent in French, English, Swedish, and Spanish…and is currently learning German for love. Growing up in the countryside in the South of France, her strong connection to nature and food is, well, unsurprising. Having recently completed her degree in International Business (congrats!) in Stockholm, Amanda has her sights set on sustainability issues. So, why did Amanda study business? Easy. “Money makes the world go around. That’s a fact we can’t ignore, and one we can use to our advantage.” While exploring her best avenue for change (disruptive start up v established corporation), you can find Amanda at Influence, an innovative Swedish consulting company boosting organisational performance and efficiency through Collective Intelligence (Google it). With strong management and leadership skills, a sharp business mind, and a passion for sustainability – I’m putting Amanda on speed dial!

Session 5 Waste not, want not

Kristian is on a dual mission to eliminate food waste and reduce hunger in Sweden. And as long as we continue to waste food whilst people go hungry, you’ll find Kristian working at Food2Change. During their two years of operation, this Swedish organisation has some impressive stats to boast: 18,603 bags of food given to members; 142,277 kg of food saved; and 840,954.5 kg of C02 emissions from landfill averted. Want to become a member and receive a box of saved food each week? Check out their website here. Like many of the other EAT volunteers, Kristian’s passion is palpable, but has me thinking, is our passion also our Achilles heel? Purpose-driven Kristian is a full time volunteer. If we’re truly committed to transforming our food system, we need to better connect purpose with pay and real investment in workforce. If we fail to do so, we’ll soon be facing another sustainability issue – lack of passionate workforce.

Session 6 Who cares?

A love of science and meaningful human interaction drew Sipan to study medicine in Paris. During her first placement at a GP clinic, Sipan’s purpose was confirmed – “we need to treat the whole person and deeply understand the environment we’re working in — this very much includes the local food environment.” No point giving advice that juxtaposes reality, or taking a clinical approach to treatment when patients come in for a much needed chat. So, how do we change this? “The way we select and train doctors is mismatched with the realities of the job. This needs to change.” Person first. Always. It’s a simple but powerful message. Did I mention she’s only 19. 19! What have I been doing with my life?

 Session 7 The politics of chocolate milk

What’s the definition of a disconnected food system? For Tina, it’s inequalities in diet-related chronic diseases. Living in a country where free gastric bypasses are offered to people over a certain BMI whilst publicly financed meals include chocolate milk, bread that resembles cake, and limited fruit and veg – Tina is taking action. Her commitment to the cause is admirable, and involves a daily four hour commute to study Public Health Nutrition and Food Policy; volunteer at the think tank Frej; and collect data for sustainable school meal research. As a mother of three, Tina knows that change will come when we make the healthy choice the easy choice. If you want to join Tina and others in creating a healthier path of least resistance for all citizens, you can sign up for the Copenhagen World Food Summit on 30-31 August 2018 here.

Session 8 Loaves and fishes (vegan edition)

Could you feed 70 people a 3-course organic, vegan meal for €3.50? Lin can! Away from home, stressed, hangry, and fending for one’s self for the first time on a slim budget — this is the plight of many university students around the world. The result? Quick, easy, satisfying, and often unhealthy meals. But this isn’t the case everywhere. During her undergraduate in the Netherlands, Lin worked with Organic Campus to provide students with affordable organic produce direct from a local farmers collective. Through this partnership, a small social start-up quickly turned into a business; a platform for education; a catalyst for community; and a successful health and sustainability intervention. Now with a Masters of Food Security under her belt, Lin is working at Foodlog, determined to make food issues and news fun and accessible to all.

With nothing to prove and so much to share: we took the time to talk; we took the time to connect; and we took the time to challenge each other and listen. Now physically apart, our disruptive and productive dialogue continues via Whatsapp and Facebook. Big question is: how can we replicate this fast-tracked familiarity, friendship, and fiery dialogue taking place in the back room among volunteers with the CEOs and professors in the audience? Not just at EAT, but at all conferences.

Young people everywhere are creating change, and increasingly so, we’re doing it together. So, let me rephrase the introduction: earlier this week, over ‘612 of the brightest minds from science, politics, business, and civil society from over 50 countries gathered at the fifth EAT Stockholm Food Forum for two days of knowledge sharing and networking’.

About the Author: Jessica Renzella is a PhD student in Population Health at the University of Oxford, Strategic Development Coordinator at NCDFREE, and PLOS Global Health Blog editor.