Great Problems, Great Minds Seminar Series: Crafting a Just, Equitable, and Circular Food System




Michael Paul Galvin Tower IT 1F6-1 35 West 33rd Street Chicago, Illinois 60616

The Department of Social Sciences presents its Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series featuring guest speaker Weslynne Ashton, professor at the Stuart School of Business with a joint appointment with the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology, who will give a talk on “Crafting a Just, Equitable and Circular Food System.” This event is open to the public and will take place on October 20, from 3:15–4:30 p.m. at Michael Paul Galvin Tower (IIT Tower) IT 1F6-1.


Food insecurity is coupled with massive amounts of food waste in the United States. Both symptomize a larger problem—a food system built around a goal of profitability, mindsets of scarcity, and values entrenching the exploitation of people and planet. This system infrastructure has been designed to move fresh and preserved food items across large distances at low costs in one direction. The current system’s linear organization is both wasteful and unsustainable, and efforts to reduce and recycle wasted food are aligned with the concept of the circular economy (CE). However, the CE discourse ignores historic and contemporary inequities in the economic system design. Following advocacy by community-based farmers and food producers, and in the wake of Black Lives Matter movements, a concerted shift in narratives and initiatives supports racial justice and equity alongside sustainability and circularity in food supply chains. The Institute of Design Food Systems Action Lab at Illinois Tech takes a systems approach grounded in building and strengthening relationships with community-based food system stakeholders, understanding their needs and aspirations, and co-designing systemic interventions to help realize aspirations for a thriving food economy. To craft a more circular food system, it is necessary to grapple with the tensions among diverse stakeholders’ visions, priorities, and values, to create inclusive pathways for food production, consumption, and regeneration.


Weslynne Ashton is a professor at the Stuart School of Business with a joint appointment with the Institute of Design (ID) at Illinois Institute of Technology. She co-directs ID’s Food Systems Action Lab, which combines sustainability science and human-centered design with a system focus to develop tools and frameworks that can catalyze the transformative work being done by practitioners and advocates to build more sustainable, equitable, and just food systems. She is a sustainable systems scientist, and her research is grounded in industrial ecology and circular economy. She investigates the adoption of socially and environmentally responsible strategies in business, and the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in addressing neighborhood-scale as well as societal grand challenges. Her current work focuses on increasing sustainability and equity in urban food systems and developing climate resilient and regenerative economies in post-industrial regions and small island states. She has published scholarly articles on these research areas in top journals, such as Journal of Industrial Ecology, Journal of Cleaner Production, and Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of State, as well as private philanthropy. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree and doctoral degrees in environmental science from Yale University.

“Crafting a Just, Equitable and Circular Food System” is part of the Department of Social Sciences’ Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series which explores the major problems facing humanity as we move into the heart of the twenty-first century. To see the full schedule and videos from previous events, visit the seminar series page. For more information, contact Associate Professor of Social Sciences Hao Huang at


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