iSEE Congress Fall 2021:






A Series of Online Events


Hosted by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE)

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Stay tuned to register for each Zoom Webinar (links will be provided below) 



About the Congress


In the eighth iSEE Congress, we are readdressing the topic of feeding the world. A major challenge for agriculture in the coming decades: providing a secure and safe supply of food, feed, and fuel to an ever-increasing human population using agricultural practices that are ecologically sustainable and adaptable to climate change.

Over a group of one-hour sessions in October and November, “Circular Food Systems” will bring together speakers and panelists from different disciplines to dive deeper into the topic. Our modified “teach-in” event will introduce the Illinois campus and community to cutting-edge thinking from highly influential scholars on advancing sustainability of our agriculture and food systems. Achieving this sustainability while continuing to increase agricultural productivity is a critical national priority. Through this conference, we aim to raise awareness of the national dialogue on sustainable agriculture and pathways for scientists, economists, and policymakers to collaborate in transitioning our agricultural system to one that reduces, reuses, and recycles waste.

In early September, with COVID-19 uncertainties still prevailing, iSEE chose to transform the Congress from in-person to online. Once the sessions have been rescheduled, please click the links within their toggles to register for each of the Zoom webinars!

The iSEE Congress is an assembly of leading national and international scientists, researchers, educators, journalists, and activists who will present the latest scientific research and community action on grand world challenges of sustainability, energy generation and conservation, and the environment.

The Fall 2021 Congress organizing committee includes iSEE Associate Director for Education & Outreach Luis Rodriguez, former iSEE Associate Director for Education & Outreach Gillen D’Arcy Wood, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faculty members Carl Bernacchi, Adjunct Professor of Plant Biology and USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Physiologist; Emily Heaton, Professor of Regenerative Agriculture in the Department of Crop Sciences; Don Fullerton, Professor of Finance; Andrew Margenot, Assistant Professor of Crop Sciences; and Vijay Singh, Distinguished Professor of Bioprocessing in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory.


To start the conversation …

iSEE held a creative writing contest in early 2021 for students to creatively describe food-life cycle sustainability. Read the winning entries below!

The Potato War Machine by Chaeyeon Park

The Potato War Machine

By Chaeyeon Park


            On September 1941, the United States and her allies cut off oil exports to Japan prompting the attack on Pearl Harbor. Oil was gold. Oil was money. Oil was king. Without oil the aircrafts would not run, the ships would not sail, and the Japanese war machine could not function. And so, scientists at the University of Tokyo discovered a way to harness the power of potatoes.


The Potato War Machine.

            Potatoes today, potatoes tomorrow—The manifesto of the Japanese empire on the eve of U.S. entrance into WWII. The farmer was now the aristocrat, the politician the slave. Potato day, potato festivals, potato propaganda films. Potato day every day.

            The age-old potato battery science project found its roots during the onslaught of World War II. With no oil from foreign exports, Japan had resorted to a short-lived period of potato powered ingenuity. Millions of potatoes would protrude off the sides of tanks and battleships, each hanging by 3cm wires which all interconnected. The phenomenon was called “Jagaimo-bukuro” or, “potato sack” by the Japanese people, to illustrate the monstrous form of the of light brown lumps protruding off of metal forms.

            Potatoes were banned from common consumption. Every family that produced potatoes on their plot of land and offered up their crops to the government would receive a daily stipend of food rations and money. Not a lot of money. Not a lot of food. But something to keep the Japanese war machine running. The war on the fronts, and the war at home.

            Sacrifice. The everyday people needed to sacrifice. Sacrifice for victory, for nationality, for—myths. Myths that were not a necessity for survival. Myths that did not sustain the body so much so as it did the mind—or perhaps not even the mind. Because when all is said and done, when money, government, country, nationality all fall apart… all that’s left is us, isn’t it? A body, a mind, a soul—that must be sustained to be preserved.

            All the potatoes given over to the government were to be stored in a military base—a crude cave with metal locks and gates where all the potatoes were stored. Those found eating a potato were heavily fined, so much so that it’s be cheaper to make burial preparations than to sink one’s teeth into a bland, seedy skin of a potato.

            A potato—a food that wasn’t even grown in Japan. A food that was not a dietary mainstay, or of cultural substance. A foreign, alien crop—almost an invasive crop—that transformed the landscape of Japan. All for—myths. All for the metallic hull of the war machine.


            During the latter half of the war, food was not produced in light of the potato. A potato that wasn’t meant to be eaten, to sustain the people, but was offered up like a sacrifice to metallic bodies and brainless, hollow hulls of the Japanese war machine. Sacrifice. All in the name of sacrifice. For victory… yet another myth. A myth that does not sustain the life but kills it. The myths of victory and camaraderie. A camaraderie that lives and dies together—.

            And then the soil died. Because overworking the soil does that—drains the nutrients, the phosphorous, the nitrogen.

Too much potatoes.

Too many potatoes.

            Too much that though the ships and air crafts hum along, the people begin to whither away. Too many potatoes such that even if all the world and all her creatures were to fade away, the Japanese war machine could function for the next 37 years or so.

            Empty stomachs. Stomachs that couldn’t even digest a potato if they wanted to, because the soil was too rotten and the government had ceased their food ration stipends for the last five months or so.





            That’s people.

            That’s food.

            With no food, people die. Funny, right? We treat food like a curse. Like calories to be counted. Like a guilty pleasure to indulge at night, under the fluorescent glare of the refrigerator light. But have you ever eaten a meal after starving for the past several days, weeks, months? How satisfactory, lovely, and transcendent that bite is. How your mouth will water for the blandest taste of rice or bread, or how a single scoop of green beans taste so sweet and filling to the last bite.

            Because food sustains you. And because we never truly know what we have until it is stripped away from us. Like when the crops fail, the soil dies, and the people go hungry. The people. Because we treat people like commodities. We package grains and sugar in a plastic bag and call then low-fat goodies, charge 5 bucks a pound and go on our way. The consumer war machine. The consumer war machine where we don’t think about food. We think about sugars, calories, diet pills, cheat days. But we don’t think about what happens without it—





            Just war machines in an eternal cog. An eternal cog where the irony never ceases to ring true—dying from starvation from producing too much food. Food that will never be eaten, or touched. Tasted. Will never sustain or nourish.

            By the time of the tragedy of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the potato campaign had already ceased from existence. The model had crashed and burned, like their three air carriers and five battleships.

            The only remnant of this ironic and painfully bizarre period of history was when a Swedish researcher stumbled upon an abandoned cave on the coast of Nagasaki. He had arrived to study the effects of radiation poisoning on the soil, only, his findings were much more bizarre.

            A single mound of a thousand or so pounds of potatoes, located just under the base of a cave, hallowed out beneath a mountain. The entrance had been obscured from the impact of the atomic bomb, but upon entering the researcher noted the singular smell of sulfur and roasted potatoes. He saw a monstrous mound of potatoes, all terribly spoiled and discolored… but some had begun to grow white sprouts from the spud.

            The War Machine lives on.

            Too much potatoes.

Cooking with Time by Andy Sima

Cooking with Time

By Andy Sima


Neolithic Unleavened Bread – Your First Meal 

Prep Time: Seven Million Years 

Cook Time: Ten Thousand Years 

Serves: Four to Ten Million People 

Chef’s Note: With this, you can create infinitely more complex dishes, at a certain cost of movement. It’s the cradle of any good urban chef’s repertoire! I hope it helps you out. With a little practice and some adjustments, you could feed millions more! 


  • Mastery of Fire 
  • Basic Flint Tools 
  • A Cereal Grain, 
  • Access to Water 

1. First, prepare a site for controlled growth of a cereal grain, such as barley or emmer wheat, or corn for the west. You may need to deforest or clear out an expansive area nearby your settlement. You can do this via sharpened stones or fire. 

2. Next, encourage the growth of a cereal grain through irrigation. You can dig trenches connected to existing waterways. Do not worry about how much land you are using or how many forests you are cutting down; there are not that many mouths to feed, and the world is wide. (Revise for second edition!) 

3. One the grain is planted, wait for it to grow. You might want to build a village, where you can try keeping cattle or chickens. These villages will be hard to live in, harder than hunting and gathering, but after several years, your fields can sustain huge populations. 

4. Finally, harvest the grain. Crush it between two stones into a fine powder. Mix this powder with water and cook in a thin sheet over a rock in a fire for ten minutes. Delicious! Goes great with meat and wild fruit. You reap what you sow! 


British Sweet Meat – A Summer Treat with History 

Prep Time: One Thousand Years 

Cook Time: Three Hundred Years 

Serves: Five Hundred Million to Two Billion (!!!) 

Chef’s Note: We’re skipping a couple steps here, but this should tide you over. You folks will need something better, though, and soon. Your population’s growing exponentially, and you aren’t going to be able feed everyone with what I’ve given you. I’ll get the next one down to a science. 


  • A Clover Crop Rotation Scheme 
  • Land Conversion 
  • Better Transportation 
  • Turkeys and Sugar (Where did they get those?) 

1. Building off the lessons learned in Fifty Different Arabic Salads, turn your crop rotation into a mechanized system. This will allow you to deplete the soil and largely replenish its nutrients, especially if you cover it with clovers. They look pretty, too! 

2. Borrowing designs from Chinese Ploughs and You, there are a couple different ways to use all that coal laying around to make unique metal tools, like better ploughs. You can even turn more land into farms to feed more people, and transport it better, via train or boat. 

3. Once you have contacted the western continents, sharing is caring; they should benefit from you as much as you benefit from them. Be sure to grow your crops equitably and evenly, and you can both increase your work forces with larger population pools as needed. (No no no this one went HORRIBLY wrong, must revise) 

4. Finally, harvest the turkeys and sugar and ship them a few thousand miles to make sure that they age properly. Then, grind them both together in a nearby millstone and bake the remnants into a loaf for a truly British flavor! 


American Corn Syrup – Tons of Uses! 

Prep Time: Fifty Years 

Cook Time: One Hundred Years (?) 

Serves: Three to Seven (?) Billion 

Chef’s note: Ok, this one should be it. You’ll all be careful with this, right? Don’t just sell it all to make a quick buck. You’re going to have plenty of food, you just need to distribute it evenly and equitably. I never thought there would be so many of you. 


  • Nitrate/Phosphate Fertilizer 
  • High-Yield Plants 
  • Insecticides, Pesticides, Fungicides 
  • Corn 

1. Generate an industrial process to produce incredible quantities of chemically synthesized fertilizers, because crop rotation is no longer enough. Apply a generous base of fertilizer to as much land as you can. 

2. Artificially select, or genetically enhance, crops to produce as much as possible, especially wheat, rice, and corn. Corn can be processed into almost any form. Seed these 

plants across millions of acres of what used to be prairies. 

3. Throughout the entire process, make sure to keep an eye on the temperature of the atmosphere. Too hot, too fast, and things will fall apart quickly. You can avoid this by keeping a finger on your extraction of resources. 

4. Address rapid ecosystem deterioration with a liberal spread of chemical cocktails, detailed in the appendix. These should keep out general pests, invasive species, and super bugs for the time being. 

5. Finally, once the corn is harvested, crush it between the spinning, bloodied wheels of progress to form a thick, viscous gloop for sweetening luxury goods, or feed it to cattle and chickens stuffed into mechanical factories of meat for cheap, easy protein. 


African Chinese Latin ???? Lab-Grown Anti-Starvation Foodstuff? – Staving off the End 

Prep Time: Today 

Cook Time: Tomorrow 

Serves: More than Ten Billion? Is that enough? 

Chef’s Note: I’m so sorry. I’m scrambling to keep up here. I’ve made so many mistakes. There’s more than enough to go around, I think, but it isn’t “profitable.” Maybe you can still feed everyone, but things are changing so fast now, the last recipe might not work soon. You might be on your own soon. There must be a way. I just haven’t found it yet. 


  • Bigger fields (too much ecosystem destruction?) 
  • More water (there is no more water!!!) 
  • More fertilizers (too much fossil fuel use?) 
  • More meat (definitely NOT this one) 
  • More coal (already made that mistake once) 
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (too controversial?) 
  • Polyculture and Regional Variability (ok maybe this one, but not “profitable”) 
  • Low-tech Solutions (what if they went back?) 
  • Climate-Change Resiliency Measures (A last resort?) 

1. To begin, start by clearing out the rest of the world’s arable land and- 

1. Consider expanding the production of corn into third-world countries via the use of economic force and… 

1. Grow more cows? 

1. Follow a multi-tiered approach that does not encroach upon existing green spaces while simultaneously minimizing the production of fossil fuels. Lower the level of pesticides being released into the environment and catch all those fertilizers before they reach the 

ocean and bloom. 

2. Stop trying to grow corn everywhere! Begin a decolonial approach to agriculture that allows local farmers to utilize the newest tech advances while respecting their cultural ability to subsist on the land. Where possible, produce large, polycultural fields of a wide variety of crops for local and global consumption, distributed equitably. 

3. Do this all before the sea levels get too high. There will be a solution. (How are they going to agree on this? Who will fund it? Where will the corn go? There must be something!) 


5. Finally, harvest the fruits of your labor and grind it into dust, as all things began, so they shall end, you screwed it all up in such a beautiful way. 

6. You reap what you sow. 

Conference Program TBA — New Schedule Coming Soon!

Please open each session, and click the link to register for each corresponding Zoom Webinar.