2013 SIMRAN SETHI
As we all know, life is circular. Simran’s story is a nice reminder of how the roots of our individual experiences with food – quite literally the first things our parents and grandparents feed us – help us grow to adults and develop an interest in a career that somehow leads us back to our passion for what we eat. Simran’s interest in sustainability and environmentalism led her back to food and agriculture, where she has found her calling as a journalist and educator. Simran will be giving a talk on “Looking Beyond Food to the Seeds that Produce Our Food” at the upcoming TEDxManhattan event on February 16.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I’m Indian and have always had an awareness of the importance of food from both a hunger and taste perspective (my grandmother was the best cook ever). Anuradha Mittal’s 2002 interview on the true cause of world hunger really helped me understand how my food choices impacted people all over the world. She sparked my curiosity about the ways in which a more sustainable food system could play a role in solving the world’s most pressing problems. From there, I was introduced to the work of Carlo Petrini, and through the work of Just Food and People’s Grocery, the role social justice plays in local food movements. My time in Harlem developing a healthy food curriculum for churches reinforced the fact that the power to transform our food system is within everyone, and the right to clean and healthy food belongs to everyone.
How did you get your current good food job?
I created this job for myself. My work for the last nine years has focused exclusively on sustainability and environmentalism. Over the years, I realized the area within sustainability that I was most passionate about was food and agriculture. What we eat and how we eat holds within it the possibility of transforming the world. So, after six years in academia, I decided to leave to write a book about seeds. I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here because writing a book doesn’t provide much of a steady income, but seeds are the origins of food. They are becoming increasingly consolidated, engineered and industrialized and we are losing diversity at an unprecedented pace.
These seed stories are incredibly important and I am going to do my best to tell them, starting with the upcoming TEDxManhattan event in New York City on February 16th.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Being exposed to good food by an amazing mother and grandmother, getting to know urban farmers in New York and rural farmers in Iowa and Kansas, and growing and cooking a bit of my own food.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Anyone who tries to expose injustice, reveal truth, and/or disrupt the status quo is going to face some challenges, but I don’t define them as obstacles. It is a challenge to write about complex, seemingly invisible subjects when most media is focused on celebrities and sensationalism, but I believe in the extraordinary work being done to sustain seed and food. That’s what inspires me. Every day.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
At no point in history have we had greater insight or awareness about what’s in our food and how our food is raised. Information is power, and I think this knowledge gives us great opportunity to transform food and agriculture. It’s mind-blowing. Anything you care about you can learn about. Anything you learn about, you can engage with.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?