Five Questions For: Robyn Metcalfe, Director of Food+City at UT-Austin

Austin — Cities are planned in a number of ways, from roads to utilities to parks. Robyn Metcalfe wants that focus to apply to the way our food is distributed.

As director of Food+City, a multi-departmental effort at the University of Texas at Austin, Metcalfe is exploring how to create a better food system. “We’re not activists for certain solutions but want to have edgy, sharp, bold conversations,” she says.

Studying the logistics of food distribution might lead to improvements in food safety and waste. “We’re pretty good at producing enough food but not that good at distributing it to the places it needs to go in the condition it needs to be in,” she says.

The effort began as the Food Lab three years ago and featured The Food Challenge, a startup contest to reward young companies applying technology to solve food-related problems. (Metcalfe says they dropped “Lab” from the name last year. “We had no lab—and when you’re in academia, they get really nutsy about that,” she explains.)

In our latest installment of “Five Questions For,” I spoke to Metcalfe about leadership, managing people, and other topics. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Xconomy: What leadership lessons did you get from your parents?

Robyn Metcalfe: My dad is still around at 95 and is a constant inspiration. He just says, “Nothing gets done unless you make it happen.” He’s still reminding us of that: “Get into the game; get close to the subject; be involved.”

My mom was just the epitome of the intrepid explorer and creative person. When it wasn’t fashionable to have organic food, I was the kid stuck [with] banana date sandwiches on brown bread. All the kids were eating Wonder Bread and bologna. When everyone was going one way, we would go the other way. When kids were doing Easter eggs on Easter morning, we would be in [a] VW camper van to visit the Yaqui in Arizona.

But it’s that curiosity that drives my own life: How does this work? Why? That’s why I tramp around doing all these desert races. How does it work; where did it come from; what … Next Page »

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