The world food challenge

The problem

The world food challenge

Food is at the center of the world’s most urgent challenges and largest opportunities. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is the leading cause of death and disease globally. In fact, there is a “triple burden” of malnutrition at all levels of the population:

  • Undernutrition: The lack of food and/or access to it. 
  • Overnutrition: The consumption of too many calories.  
  • Poor nutrition: Not the right nutritional content (vitamin and mineral deficiencies).

The solution

A public database of the biochemical composition and function of food

The Periodic Table of Food Initiative (PTFI) is a global effort to create a public database of the biochemical composition and function of the food we eat. The PTFI will strengthen and support ongoing work by institutions around the world by developing low-cost mass spectrometry kits, standards, methods, cloud-based analytical tools, and a public database – the Periodic Table of Food (PTF) – that will include a quantitative and qualitative analysis of thousands of foods. The PTFI will begin by analyzing 1,000 foods that are representative of the geographic and cultural diversity worldwide. Once the database is in place, the scientific community and private sector can build on this public resource by adding analysis of additional foods, varieties, and cooking methods. The PTFI technical platform will enable conditions for a rapid acceleration in research and innovation.

Conceptual planning
Launch Phase
Demonstration projects
Current status

The team

A core team at Rockefeller building global alliances

Roy Steiner

Senior Vice President

Roy Steiner, PhD, is the Senior Vice President for the Food Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation, where he leads a team focused on creating access to nourishing food for millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, supporting scientific advances in human nutrition and sustainable food production, and carrying forward the Foundation’s enduring commitment to a sustainable Green Revolution in Africa.

John de la Parra

Manager of the Global Food Portfolio

Dr. John de la Parra is an ethnobotanist and plant chemist with expertise in food crops and medicinal plants. He is currently the President of the Society for Economic Botany. John is also Manager of the Global Food Portfolio at The Rockefeller Foundation where his work focuses on the management of the Periodic Table of Food Initiative, a global effort to create a public database of the biochemical composition and function of the food we eat using the latest mass spectrometry technologies and bioinformatics. He also holds appointments as an Associate at Harvard University and a Lecturer at Tufts University where his expertise encompasses ethnobotany, food system innovation, agriculture, and medicinal plants. He has held additional appointments as a Research Scientist at MIT and a Lecturer of Biotechnology at Northeastern University.