Animals are often the gateway for people who are beginning to think more carefully about where their food comes from. Many of us are so repelled by the treatment of industrially farmed animals that we swear off of eating meat, or any animal products. Others choose to eat only the meat that can source fro a local farmer who cares about his animals, and the planet. Whichever path you choose, the experience of learning more about the animals that we eat is transformative, as Daisy can attest.
Daisy is yet another University of Gastronomic Sciences graduate. If you are interested in learning more about the programs at UNISG, representatives from the school will be stateside this week. Attend one of their info sessions:
THURSDAY 4 DECEMBER 2014
7 PM - 8:30 PM
NYC / Eataly
Full details at: http://www.unisg.it/eventi/unisg-eataly-new-york/
FRIDAY 5 DECEMBER 2014
12:30 PM - 2 P
Yale University (New Haven, CT)
55 Whitney Avenue - 3rd Floor - Room 369
SUNDAY 7 DECEMBER 2014
4 PM - 6 PM
Chicago / Eataly
Full details at: http://www.unisg.it/eventi/unisg-eataly-chicago/
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I knew I loved food and the power it had to bring people together when I was living in Boston after college, doing PR, and spending all my time and money throwing dinner parties. But it took a variety of seemingly random experiences-getting my masters in Italy at the University of Gastronomic Sciences; managing a restaurant/social enterprise in Rwanda; taking care of livestock at Glynwood, a farm in the Hudson Valley - to start understanding that we can address major societal problems by working through food as a vehicle for change that everyone can relate to. But my awakening to the specific angle I wanted to work on within the giant world of food may have started with a baby goat, a kid named Tinklepack. He was born while I was working at Glynwood. He was a runt and an orphan who required bottle-feeding and we became very attached to each other. The fierce little personality of this kid, the specificity of his needs, the impossibility of anything but total compassion for him, even if eventually he might become food, all led me to think harder than ever about industrial farming as it affected animals, and it made me really, really mad. That was a turning point.
How did you get your current good food job?
When I started to take this idea seriously - that I might want to devote myself to improving farm animal's lives and educating people on how they could make more humane choices - I had no idea where to begin. I didn't know of any organizations that worked on farm animal welfare without advocating for a vegan diet, which was not the approach I was interested in taking. I saw a Good Food Jobs posting for a position at World Animal Protection working on a farm animal campaign that showed me that various groups fell in different places on the issue of eating animal products. I didn't get that job but the process of applying solidified my interest in this work. I eventually found a position with the ASPCA through word of mouth. They are historically more known for their cat/dog rescue and shelter work, and were just building their farm animal campaign department. Their ideas of how to talk to consumers and companies to shift supply and demand really made sense to me and it's been a steep but super rewarding learning curve from there.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
It came as a real surprise that what felt at the time like blind fumbling towards unconnected things that interested me had actually prepared me for a serious job of any kind. But when I lined it all up in a resume, I had the raw ingredients for the job at the ASPCA. From my work at a global PR firm I was fairly savvy to corporate culture and media relations and had some training in politely stalking people until they do what you want them to do. From my masters degree in Italy I had a good grasp on various farming systems, from industrial to independent, and knew their impacts on animals, humans and the environment. From managing restaurants I had some sourcing and supply chain experience, and had gained the tenacity that's necessary working in a developing country. And then from my apprenticeship at Glynwood, I had hands-on experience with farm animals being raised in some of the most humane conditions possible, basic veterinary knowledge, an understanding of some of the pressures farmers face, and most importantly, a huge affection for the animals themselves. That relatively little bit of farming experience I have serves me immensely when I speak to farmers around the country to get their support against state ag-gag bills or ask about their experiences raising chickens for our Truth About Chicken campaign.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
One hard thing I grappled with as I tried to pursue a career in food - and that I continue to deal with today in my current work - is the issue of whether this is all an elitist, niche folly. Before I found this job, and especially when I was in Italy studying these incredible rare delicacies, I questioned whether my interest in food was more of a hobby, and even a luxury. I worried how I would "make a difference" by writing an article about the characteristics of jamon Iberico, which is so out of reach of the average consumer. And today I have people push me on how they're supposed to afford a pasture raised chicken that costs at least twice what an industrially raised and bred chicken does. And I hear them. It is depressing that it's inaccessible to many people to buy meat from an animal raised humanely on a farm where workers were treated with dignity and the land was actually improved rather than depleted. And yet I believe that highlighting the best practices will raise the lowest bar; that what feels niche now may become the norm one day; and in the meantime, it's our job to find viable intermediate steps that move us in the direction of less suffering along the food chain.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
I'm excited that practical resources are being developed that help people make better food choices. We recently put out a supermarket request form since so few stores stock anything but conventionally raised chicken, and a label guide that helps people navigate terms on packages. There are now so many apps and pocket guides and bar scanners, you just pick your priorities when it comes to food and there's an app for that. The more people we have putting brainpower towards clarifying the marketplace and debunking misleading marketing, the better. I think it's important that we keep breaking down silos between groups that are advancing parallel interests like farming, animal welfare, worker, public health, water, nutrition, school food. Too many people are currently skeptical of this movement for a better food system despite the fact that they eat every day, and when we connect issues, we strengthen the case to be an advocate. I also think getting farmers' personal stories into the mix is critical. Farmers' voices have been missing for too long and it has allowed corporations to take the humanity out of food. I'm a huge fan of projects like TheLexicon of Sustainability, and organizations like Animal Welfare Approved or the National YoungFarmers Coalition. The stories they're telling are capturing the attention of media and consumers. It's easier to support and invest in good food when you put a face to it - human or animal.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Airfare and rare honey. I have an embarrassing collection of different honey.