9 Quotes & Questions to Guide Food System Through This Year

2022-01-14, 11:15am Columns

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Danielle Nierenberg

Danielle Nierenberg 

This week, we’re opening a time capsule—not a literal box hidden in a cupboard or buried in a backyard, but a virtual time capsule in the archives of the Food Talk podcast.

We released over 70 episodes of the podcast during the past year. That’s more than one per week! Although I was hunkered down at home for much of the year, I met more people through these conversations than I thought possible. And each episode is a unique snapshot of the world as told by the folks doing the necessary, difficult, hopeful work to change the food system.

Food shop. Photo courtesy of Gabriella Clare, Unsplash

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The episodes of the Food Talk podcast from last year represent a huge body of knowledge and insight we should all pay attention to.

This week, we’re highlighting nine of the questions that can guide our food system forward—and the encouraging answers given by the farmers, researchers, writers, advocates, and more on the Food Talk podcast:

● How can we address the health challenges faced by our bodies and our planet at the same time?

● What are chefs doing to reclaim Indigenous and traditional cuisines?

● Amid centuries of racism and land loss, how can farmers of color continue to build strong support networks?

● What does the next generation of food advocates need from those in power today?

● How can we make the business case for corporations to adopt sustainable practices?

● Why does the U.S. have such significant disparities in food access and nutrition security?

● How do we expand the power of home gardening?

● How can cooking help people have a smaller climate footprint?

● What will it take to build coalitions for effective change?

Contributing author: Jared Kaufman

Over the course of the past year, Food Tank has released more than 70 episodes of our podcast, Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg. We’ve brought together folks from dozens of countries on nearly every continent to discuss virtually all aspects of the past, present, and future of food.

As the show’s host, I have the privilege of speaking with so many engaging and inspiring advocates, writers, business leaders, farmers, chefs, and more on the podcast this year. These conversations not only bring up key questions that must be considered as we enter a new year of food system change, but answer them, too.

These nine quotes are the start of a roadmap for the coming months and years of transformation in global food:

 How can we address the health challenges faced by our bodies and our planet at the same time?

“Deep medicine, for us, is the understanding that health can no longer be viewed as something we can try to get as individuals. We have to understand that health must be attained in the context of our communities, of our families, where we are in our societies, and in relationship to the web of life.”

— Dr. Rupa Marya, co-author of Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice. Watch Dani’s conversation with her and advocate Raj Patel here.

What are chefs doing to reclaim Indigenous and traditional cuisines?

“My approach to food is really from farm to table, and part of that is a reclamation of heritage crops… How do we explore these West African culinary traditions and techniques? How do we apply them to Global North or Western Style cuisine? There’s room for growth, and it’s not about cultural appropriation; it’s really about exchange.”

— Ozoz Sokoh, Nigerian Food Explorer, culinary anthropologist, and author of the blog Kitchen Butterfly, in conversation about the Double Pyramid model of health and wellness. Read more here.

Amid centuries of racism and land loss, how can farmers of color continue to build strong support networks?

“Elder farmers are usually looking for younger farmers to get nestled under their wing, and the younger farmers want that as well. They want to see someone who has experience doing this over a long period of time, who they can just identify with, really, and share their work and experience with. A part of what we do on the Farmers of Color Network is try to create a space for those intergenerational connections with older farmers and younger farmers, and curating that.”

— Tahz Walker, Former Program Manager for the Farmers of Color Network at the Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI-USA) and Co-Founder of Earthseed Land Collective. Listen to his Food Talk podcast episode here.

What does the next generation of food advocates need from those in power today?

“We as young people—we’re powerful, we can take action, we’re making these innovations… but we need the support of the decision makers in, for instance, government and business. In my experience as a youth advocate and actionist, I’ve seen so many times that the example of ‘What young people are doing!’ can be used to excuse less action from those who are in power who have the most ability to take the actions we know we need for food systems, for the planet, for climate action. Because [they] can feel more relaxed knowing that the next generation has taken it forward for [them]. But we need that support in line with what we are doing — that is a critical component for me.”

— Lana Weidgenant, Deputy Partnerships Director at Zero Hour, an international, youth-led climate justice organization. Listen to more here.

How can we make the business case for corporations to adopt sustainable practices?

A lot of companies add ingredients but don’t add biodiversity. For instance, when America became enamored with pomegranates, it’s not as if, suddenly, orchards planted pomegranate trees here and there. It’s more like, tens of thousands of acres got cleared to plant pomegranates. So what we’ve done deliberately is to help companies understand that, in an era of climate change and severe weather, as well as a few other things, that buying food as commodities on the global market actually may be worse for their bottom line than directly sourcing groups or baskets of ingredients from specific farms or farming regions.

— Arlin Wasserman, Founder and Managing Director of Changing Tastes, a sustainable food consultancy. Listen to his conversation with Dani here, and read his predictions for the food system in 2022 here.

Why does the U.S. have such significant disparities in food access and nutrition security?

“The way that we think about diet, nutrition, food choice in this country is from a really individualistic perspective. It’s up to every single person to make healthy choices, to feed their families healthy foods, and we don’t think about it really as a collective responsibility or a right. We don’t think about food and healthy eating as a human right. We think about it first as a privilege, but then we also think about it as something that each person individually is responsible for securing for themselves even when there are major and systemic barriers to doing so. It’s shameful for our society, but the ones who end up carrying the shame are individuals.”

— Priya Fielding-Singh, sociologist and author of How the Other Half Eats: the Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America. Listen to more here.

How do we expand the power of home gardening?

“To imagine going from you cannot feed your children, to not just feeding your children and yourself but feeding your community — It just gives me goosebumps to see the impact [gardening] can have. It empowers families to take control of their lives and grow food for themselves and their families and for their community. And that psychological change of their mindset is just absolutely extraordinary — it’ll change your life. … I think gardening is essentially an act of hope.”

— Kimbal Musk, entrepreneur, discussing his project Million Gardens Movement. Listen to his conversation with Dani and Frank Giustra of Modern Farmer here.

 How can cooking help people have a smaller climate footprint?

We, as consumers, contribute to the climate crisis, very directly, through our food choices. And what that also says is that our food choices matter, and the way we eat interacts and directly impacts the planet. … I think if we were to take a step back and look at the [Kitchen Connection cookbook] recipes and look at the content in the book and, in some ways, see that as a microcosm for how our plates should look, I think it could really help us. But I don’t think that it’s the only solution. I think it’s the start, and I think it should be adapted to everybody’s local context and their own situation and health requirements.

— Earlene Cruz, founder of Kitchen Connection. Listen to more here.

What will it take to build coalitions for effective change?

“Courage is the key to this [change]. But it’s very hard to do things alone that are courageous. So find the one, or two, or three, or a crowd of people…and together take action, because I do think that courage is contagious.”

— Frances Moore Lappé, celebrated author of Diet for a Small Planet and democracy advocate. Watch her conversation with Dani here.

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Danielle Nierenberg is the President of Food Tank and can be contacted at  danielle@foodtank.com