It’s the end of a year … and time for lists of all sorts. This isn’t a list of “the best” or “the top.” In a year of firsts for the UC Food Observer, the real takeaway for us is that it is all wonderful. Or, perhaps more aptly, “Wonder-Full.” It’s been a year where the writing has featured the stories of farmers, activists, educators, researchers, young professionals and others with different perspectives and unique ideas about the food system (writ large). Each person I spoke with informed my work … and each has inspired me.
Heartfelt thanks to those who took time to chat with me as this new enterprise began. Gratitude for all those who have read what we’ve produced.
I hope you enjoy reading (or revisiting) some of the pieces included.
Q&A with Michael Pollan. Michael Pollan was one of the first people to give the UC Food Observer an interview. He was – and always is – incredibly generous with his time, kind, thoughtful and encouraging. Pollan offered some incredibly important insights on a range of issues. In a year that’s seen a surge of activity on food systems courses in higher education, his comments about food and food politics as an area of study were prescient. “… make food and food politics available to students as an area of study, whether as a minor or major, to raise the profile of the issue and educate people about it. That’s something universities are good at. There’s something especially interdisciplinary about food issues; they touch almost every academic discipline in one way or another. Food issues also cross the sciences and humanities, which makes them an excellent vehicle for advancing the entire idea of interdisciplinary study. Studying food issues offers both opportunities to universities and obligations.”
Q&A with Chris Sayer. Ventura County farmer Chris Sayer enjoys far less celebrity than Michael Pollan. But he is one of the UC Food Observer’s heroes and someone I meet regularly for coffee and the producer perspective. He told me this several months ago: ”One of the real values for local food – and I would love to see more – is it helps to connect our neighbors to the issues surrounding agriculture. If they are interested in what we do, and care about what we do, that’s probably to our benefit in the policy arena. If they don’t understand, or don’t care, it puts us as producers in a very bad place. Feed them and they will care.”
Paired Q&As. Michael O’Gorman, Farmer Veteran Coalition and Mary Kimball, Center for Land-Based Learning. Both are working in the vital space of preparing the next generation of farmers. Michael shared with me: “Our country gets divided over matters of war and peace, over how food is raised, but this joining of the two makes those divisions go away. Wherever they go and however they farm. Our military fights together. Soldiers put aside differences in politics, religion, social class and race, and then they all fight together. Unfortunately, there is a lot of division in our nation over how food is raised, and that makes a sad division in our support for farmers.” Mary Kimball, whom I’ve known (and admired) for a couple of decades, told me this: “The innovation, the technology, the STEM jobs … few are talking about STEM jobs in agriculture on a national level. No one includes agriculture in that conversation. But what is more STEM than agriculture and environmental jobs?”
Q&A with Pedro Sanchez … what might normalizing relations with Cuba mean for the food system? I was inspired by my conversation with Sanchez, who currently works at the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Sanchez left his native Cuba at age 18 to study at Cornell University. He’s a world-renowned soil scientist, the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and a 2004 MacArthur Fellow. One of his key points? “There is a great deal to learn from Cuba.” This conversation with Sanchez inspired me to book a trip to Cuba in 2016.
One of my heroes is Shirley Sherrod, civil rights activist and minority farmer advocate. At the 30th anniversary of Farm Aid, I had an opportunity to chat with her briefly about her work. Among the things she told me? “The right kind of policy is one that doesn’t just favor large corporations and large growers. We need to do more for young people. They have great ideas and things that they are doing. I think we could see legislation that would better support their work.”
What can a World War I poster teach us about #foodwaste? Food waste is both an ethical and environmental issue. It should concern us that we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce and purchase in this food-abundant nation. I think this piece wraps together some great things: information about the federal government’s food waste goals, commentary by Jonathan Bloom and my own work as a U.S. historian.
Family fishermen and family producers often have aligned interests. This was a takeaway from my conversation with fourth-generation fisherman Brett Tolley of NAMA, whom I met at Farm Aid. He said that “… the kinds of impulses that have pushed for agricultural consolidation are being mimicked on the ocean. There is a focus on putting industrialized models on fishing.” A young voice that I hope we hear more from.
I enjoyed a whirlwind food/garden/farm-themed trip to Boston and New Hampshire. I reflect on my experiences in a post I wrote called And She is Deeply Fed.
These are just a few of the conversations and experiences I had this year that made it wonderful … wonder-full.
Offering gratitude for it all. Happy Holidays.