What Does a Career In Food Look Like?

SONY DSCBC ESPM students talk to professionals in the food industry

In order to help students learn more about food-related careers, Berkeley Connect teamed up with the Berkeley Food Institute and the College of Natural Resources Alumni Association to host a career panel on April 24th at the Berkeley Wireless Research Center. Invited to speak were Berkeley alums Allison Clark (BS ’05), Melisa Lin (BS ’09), Komal Ahmad (BS ’12), and Glenda Humiston (PhD ’09). For these professionals, “a career in food” means a lot more than waiting tables or cooking at a restaurant!


The panelists had very different careers, but shared a passion for food. For Allison Clark, this passion began at a young age. When she was only eight years old, Allison became a vegetarian. As she grew older, she became very interested in environmental justice issues, particularly sustainable food systems, and eventually came to UC Berkeley as a Nutritional Science major. Since then, she has worked as the Senior Handler Certification & Policy Specialist with the California Certified Organic Farmers, a certification agency that works to promote organic foods. Currently Allison is a law student at Berkeley Law and has worked with the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland.

Melisa Lin’s career direction was motivated by a lifelong love for eating. Originally a pre-med student, Melisa realized that many diseases were linked to diet and discovered an interest in the food industry. She found no major at Cal really geared towards her interests, but she pursued them nonetheless, helping to found a small produce stand in Berkeley and starting meet-up groups for foodies like herself. Eventually these meet-ups began to spread to cities as far as Hawaii, and Melisa’s hobby soon became her career. Today, Melisa is the founder and CEO of Nommery, a platform that streamlines the process of finding people with similar interests and taste in food to share a meal.

A chance encounter changed Komal Ahmad’s life and shaped her career. After a conversation with a homeless man for whom she bought lunch, Komal became determined to tackle the issue of homelessness and hunger in Berkeley. When she realized that Berkeley dining halls threw away extra food, she came up with an idea to redistribute this food to homeless shelters in the city. But she soon found that trying to redistribute the food herself, even with a car, was not always efficient. “It shouldn’t be this hard,” she said to herself one day, when she found herself unable to find willing shelters to take the trays of food she had taken from a dining hall. So in 2012, she founded Feeding Forward, an organization that redistributes surplus food from campus dining halls to homeless shelters and soup kitchens through the use of technology. The Feeding Forward app allows food donors and shelters to connect instantly through a unique algorithm that matches nearby recipient agencies to anyone who posts a donation of excess food – and makes doing good a lot easier.

Glenda Humiston took yet another path. Though she originally wanted to be a farmer, Glenda became involved in public policy after participating in the Peace Corps. After working on food systems in the Sonoma Valley, Glenda worked in the US Department of Agriculture during the Clinton administration, where she managed all of USDA’s conservation and environmental programs. She also worked at AGvocate Consulting Services, doing management consulting on environmental and agricultural issues. She returned to school in 2003 and earned a PhD at UC Berkeley, focusing on sustainable agriculture and reform. She currently works as the California State Director at the USDA.

When asked about the challenges they face in their work, the panelists had much to say. “It’s challenging every day,” Komal said, adding that as an entrepreneur, she faced all the same challenges as others in hiring and managing her organization. But she advises students not to let that scare them. “You will fall, but it’s okay if you pick yourself up.” For Melisa, it was all about understanding her limitations and building support systems. Glenda believed, however, that the biggest challenge, at least for her, is what she calls inertia. “There are a lot of folks who resist change,” she said. As an openly lesbian woman, she admitted it has not always been easy working in the agriculture industry. “Don’t take no for an answer,” she told the students.

As the career panel came to a close, the panelists emphasized that the food movement is one in which we can all take part. “There is room for everyone,” they said.

posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant