Starting this month, I’ll begin sharing a few thoughts here about the vision I have for a healthier, more diverse, and vibrant food system. This month, Civil Eats celebrates six years of original, award-winning reporting. Now, more than ever, people want to know where their food comes from, and more publications are covering the social, environmental, and political aspects of food. It’s such an exciting time to be involved in sharing the stories of a growing food movement.
Taking stock of the last year makes me incredibly proud: We were named the James Beard Foundation’s 2014 Publication of the Year, two of our stories were included in Best Food Writing 2014, and we published over 250 original articles, working with a wide array of new and established writers. In our new series the Good Food Vanguard, we reported over 40 stories about encouraging and successful efforts to change the food system.
We also began reaching more people than ever thanks to our new media partnerships with TIME.com, Harvest Public Media, and Bay Area Bites. I’m also thrilled to have brought together some of the leading voices and thinkers in food to be on our advisory board, including Tom Colicchio, Anna Lappé, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel, Ruth Reichl, and Alice Waters.
I’m often asked what issues I think might be more prevalent in food systems for the year to come. In 2012, I had a hunch that labeling would take center stage. Since then, the issue of GMO labeling, nutrition labeling, and the use of the “natural” label and “antibiotic-free” have dominated much of the conversation.
For the last two years, child nutrition and school food have also been in the spotlight. Our intrepid contributors Nancy Huehnergarth and Bettina Elias Siegel (AKA “The Lunch Tray”) have both been out in front and written several important stories for us on this now very political issue.
Huehnergarth wrote about bringing back food education to our schools and asked whether industry-packaged school breakfasts are better for kids than nothing. Siegel shared her thoughts on the “state of the tray” regarding changes to school food and on the battle lines drawn between various factions in the effort to make school lunch healthier. She also looked at how parents might need a doctor’s note if they want to send a healthy lunch to their child’s daycare. And together they both wrote how trying to be perfect can be the enemy of good in the food reform world. I look forward to much more excellent reporting from these two smart thinkers in 2015.
Last year, my hope was that food and farm labor would finally get more attention. Within the first few weeks of the year, Barry Estabrook reported for us that labor took a historic stride forward when Walmart joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program. We saw the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (finally) proposing measures to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure, and programs like the Equitable Food Initiative beginning to create better working conditions on large farms.
We reported on how grocery store workers are making less while the big chains clean up, and profiled Saru Jayaraman, the co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and director of the Food Labor Research Center at U.C. Berkeley, who advocates for fair wages and better working conditions for restaurant workers. The end of the year also brought us the documentary Food Chains, and the excellent Andy Bellatti, who often shares his writing about nutrition, interviewed the film’s producer, Eva Longoria.
There are so many issues I care about and all of them seem critical and potential game changers: the over-use of antibiotics in livestock leading to antibiotic-resistance; animal welfare; reducing the chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins in our food and water; the ability to scale up sustainability, including financial investment for young farmers to ensure access to land and markets; the connection between food and climate change; working to address corporate control of the food system and creating policies that reflect growing demand, rather than Big Ag’s bottom line; and new research supporting agroecological methods. I know that many of our readers care about these issues, too, and we’ll continue to cover them deeply.
For 2015, my sincere hope is that we can start addressing structural racism and inequality in the food system. For too long the food systems conversation has been led by a few, while the many who are working to bridge communities of color remain on the sidelines, a pattern that’s reflected nationwide on every level and leading to disastrous consequences.
There are so many individuals whose work has been critical to this movement: Brahm Ahmadi, of People’s Community Market; Will and Erika Allen of Growing Power; Natasha Bowens of The Color of Food; Eric Holt-Giménez of Food First; Hank Herrera of Tela D’arweh, LLC; writer and Civil Eats contributor Andrea King Collier; Navina Khanna of Movement Strategy Center and Live Real; LaDonna Redmond of the Campaign for Food Justice Now; Nikki Silvestri, formerly of People’s Grocery; Anim Steel of the Real Food Challenge; Chef and Author Bryant Terry; Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and many more.
I’m committing again this year to profiling and highlighting frontline food heroes who are too busy to take credit for all of their good work. People like Leah Penniman, of Soul Fire Farm, who wants to help youth of color reconnect to the land; Karen Washington, the “Queen of Urban Gardening,” who started the Black Urban Growers; and Shakirah Simley, the Community Coordinator at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. Their voices deserve our critical attention and my goal for this year is to feature more diversity in our writers, thinkers, and stories.
If we want to create a real movement, a real discussion on race, access, and equality must take place, with more leaders of color at the table. And if this nascent movement addresses these issues now, we could build something meaningful, inclusive, and perhaps even replicable for all social movements. I hope that together, we can create solutions for increased justice and fairness, and ultimately, a much more diverse and sustainable food system.