Food for Soul director Jill Conklin to deliver Carleton convocation on ‘feeding the future’

Conklin is director and strategic officer of Food for Soul, an international nonprofit with the mission to cultivate a more just and sustainable food system by saving food from waste and reducing barriers to food security.

Erica Helgerud ’20 8 May 2024 Posted In:
Headshot of Jill Conklin outdoors.
Jill Conklin

Jill Conklin, director and strategic officer of the international nonprofit Food for Soul, will deliver the Carleton convocation address on Friday, May 10 from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in Skinner Chapel. Her address is titled, “Feeding the Future.”

Food for Soul was founded by Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore to cultivate a more just and sustainable food system by saving food from waste and reducing barriers to food security. Conklin directs the organization’s global advocacy efforts, including the Refettorio project expansion and coordination of the Refettorio Network of Partners, whose collective impact has helped transform more than 2,100 tons of food waste into 3.591 million nourishing meals.

Food for Soul developed its first Refettorio project in 2015 during the World Expo in Milan, Italy. The project began as a cultural initiative to raise awareness of food waste’s correlated effects on the planet, social isolation, and the hunger crisis. Since then, the Refettorio project has evolved into a community-based model centered around civic engagement that brings together eco-conscious design, beauty, and hospitality to enable social, environmental, and economic change. Each week, the Refettorio culinary team rescues surplus imperfect foods from landfills, transforming ingredients into nutritious menus that return the economic value of food back into communities. Conklin joined the team officially in 2019 after guiding the organization’s expansion research in San Francisco and Oakland, California, which led to the launch of Food for Soul’s nonprofit 501(c)3 United States arm.

As a former restaurant and research chef and business development executive, Conklin possesses a dynamic set of skills, knowledge, and experience that cuts across the sectors of gastronomy, culinary arts, technology, public health, and strategic development. As a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, her culinary degree in food applied science and nutrition has led her to a career of accomplishments, including a decade of research and cookery of the  Mediterranean spice trade routes and Italian Sephardic Jewish diaspora in Italy. She has held positions in public policy and civic leadership, working to improve domestic and global child nutrition and school food programs. Prior to joining Food for Soul, Conklin specialized in bringing healthy foods to market through environmentally conscious technology and packaging solutions, improved USDA commodity processing, menu development, and marketing conceptualization. She has led food safety and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) training programs across commercial and noncommercial markets, and worked eight years in food start-up ventures with a focus on sous vide technology.

Conklin’s personal passion for giving back began at the age of 12, when she worked as a camp counselor for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She was inspired by the resilience of the young people in the camp and the overwhelming gratitude they had for volunteers and helping hands. Every year thereafter, Conklin has dedicated time to support those most vulnerable. Over the last 34 years, she has found a unique path that blends her passion for food and culture with her commitment to improving food security, nutrition, and wellness around the world. Conklin is also acting program advisor to SuperChefs Cookery for Kids in British Columbia, Canada, helping to advise on the nonprofits’ summer cooking programs and international Westin “Kids Eat Well” menu. 

Aside from her nonprofit philanthropic work, Conklin has also acted as chair of the Kids in the Kitchen interest section of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP); chair of The Culinary Trust; chair of the Chef’s Table Committee for the School Nutrition Association (SNA); ad-hoc member of the SNA Industry Advisory Board; public relations co-chair for the USDA and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move, Chefs Move to Schools” campaign; chair of the IACP’s Awards of Excellence; chair of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) Forum for Ethiopia; and part of the Acting Nominations Committee for GCNF’s Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award.

A few of Conklin’s culinary experiences and accolades include: sous chef at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina; executive chef and culinary educator for Walters Restaurants and ICC education programs in Rhode Island; chef trainer for Kids in the Kitchen and Kids First in Rhode Island; trainer with USDA National School Food Safety and HACCP; U.S. domestic sales manager for Winston Industries, a leading manufacturer of precision temperature cooking equipment; and food development incubator for VC investments for a series of top-tier food manufacturing and processing companies as well as hospitality and cruise brands, including culinary development with celebrity chef and entrepreneur Carla Hall.

Conklin is the recipient of a 5 Star Dining Award, Euro-Toques Nomination, James Beard House Event Recognition, and food and recipe styling recognition for Flavors + Knowledge. She is also an Emmy winner for PBS New England’s Holiday at the Breakers, Marian Esposito’s Ciao Italia, and the Food Network. She received the 2011 Industry Member of the Year award from SNA.

This convocation will also be live streamed — please register in advance to receive information on how to attend via Zoom. Carleton convocations are free and open to the public. Find upcoming events and archived recordings (including in podcast form) on the convocations website. For more information, including disability accommodations, call 507-222-5461 or email

After each convocation address, Carleton hosts a luncheon with the speaker. Convocation luncheon is held in the Alumni Guest House Meeting Room (unless otherwise noted) from noon to 1 p.m. and is generally limited to 35 people. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP on the convocations website.

Erica Helgerud ’20 is the news and social media manager for Carleton College.