“The day is coming,” said Paul Cézanne (apparently), “when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”
I’ve been writing about, organizing, and advocating for food system change professionally for almost ten years, supporting grassroots-up, community-based change. My heroes are the small farmers, farmworkers, urban growers in marginalized communities, and others who are fighting everyday and often against great odds to preserve their livelihoods, families, communities, and even their lives. I learn from them and follow their lead — and work with them to tell their stories.
For my part, I grew up in rural western Massachusetts with back-to-the-land parents, eating out of our garden and getting milk from a farmer down the road. At Mount Holyoke College years later, I studied international agriculture and development, and was particularly struck by how the personal was impacted by the political–how the lives of women farmers in India, for example, were being destroyed by World Bank and IMF policies. Living in Italy after college, where food was central to in daily life in a way that I had found that it wasn’t in most of the US, I was struck by how whole I felt in a culture that valued food — and how it seemed to me like connection to one’s food was a right everyone should have.
That was in 2001, long before “artisanal” or even “sustainable” were something people talked about and the idea of focusing on food was unusual. When I moved to New York, trying–perhaps oddly in such an urban environment–to start working on food in some then-undefined way, it always took a long conversation to tell anyone what I was aiming to do. But I eventually defined what I wanted to do and what was out there, and got steady employment working on “sustainable food issues,” as I say in the very shortest version of my elevator pitch.
And King Corn and The Omnivore’s Dilemma came out, and suddenly everyone knew what I was talking about, and often wanted to engage with me at, say, a party on a Saturday night about the shocking things they had just learned about food. (Which I fully appreciated at a macro level and was a little less thrilled about in the moment.) I sometimes have to remind myself that most people don’t see their careers mirrored by big shifts in cultural trends and awareness; it’s been a pretty exceptional decade in that way.
I’ve recently left a long-time position at NYC-based grassroots support organization WhyHunger to support community-based leaders in new ways, from telling the stories of the personal and the political — to helping to start the revolution, by carrot or tomato.
Photo: Carrots sold to tourists at a lake near Munnar, in the Western Ghats, Kerala, India.