Voting with Your Forks: How We Can All Have a Positive Impact on our Food System



Insufficient access to fresh food. Childhood obesity. Eroded soil. Many of us know that our food system is rife with problems, but aren’t sure how we, as food shoppers, cooks, and eaters, can bring about change.

The key, according to Karen Karp, president of NYC food business consultancy Karp Resources and a partner in planning the recent JBF Food Conference, is to focus on making progress—and remember that we won’t solve these big problems all at once. “Sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” says Karp. “That kind of thinking can really instigate some change.”

Our 2011 Leadership Award recipients and members of our advisory board agree that there is a lot we can all do. Here are their suggestions.

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“Cook. If you don’t cook your food it invariably gets cooked for you. It gets processed and it gets manipulated. And when that happens you eat less nutritiously. And the environment suffers. And farmers see less of the food dollars. This may sound self-defeating coming from a chef, but we need to get more people behind the stove.”
—Dan Barber, JBF Leadership Awards Advisory Board

“Restaurants and other food purveyors with a firm commitment to sustainable agriculture deserve your patronage. Find one near you among the 25,000 listings in EatWellGuide.org. Your support expands the market for small-scale farmers and safeguards your health and the health of the planet.”
—Scott Cullen, JBF Leadership Awards Advisory Board

“Stop and think before doing, from chewing to pruning. Everyone votes daily with his or her life actions. If we all paused more to think about what our choices sustained, I think we’d witness a tidal wave of improvements.”
—Debra Eschmeyer, 2011 JBF Leadership Award Winner

“Waste and losses in the food system are massive. Much of the loss happens in the household. One way everybody can contribute to making the food system more sustainable is by planning a menu, every week. This will not only help you and your family to get a balanced diet, but if you take your menu with you when you go shopping, it will help you to buy only what you need, in the quantities you need.”
—Jan Kees Vis, 2011 JBF Leadership Award Winner

“Cook for yourself, and for your family if you have one, as often as you can. I see the power of cooking from scratch every day in our kitchens and I know how transformative it can be. When you start cooking, you start caring, and once you start caring, you just can’t eat the same old processed stuff anymore.”
—Fedele Bauccio, 2011 JBF Leadership Award Winner

“In order for the global food system to work, global food must be bought and sold at a fair price. Here’s one thing you can do: send an email to your congressional representative demanding that he or she vote to fully fund the CFTC (Commodities Futures Trading Commission), so the commission can enforce new trading laws in food commodities that outlaw Wall Street speculation.”
—Frederick Kaufman, JBF Leadership Awards Advisory Board

“Buy what you can at local farmers’ markets. If a lot more people bought a few dollars’ worth of food at farmers’ markets every week, it would be a huge incentive to encourage local food production. Also, work to elect congressional representatives who represent consumers, not agribusiness.” —Marion Nestle, JBF Leadership Awards Advisory Board

“The one thing we can all do is teach the children in our lives about healthy and sustainable food: where does our food come from? Who grows it? Are the farmers treated fairly? Is it grown in a way that does not harm the environment? How is it harvested? How do you prepare it for eating? Is it healthy? The impact can be far-reaching as these children learn to make healthy and informed choices for themselves, which in turn are healthy choices for the environment and the rest of us.”
—Sheri Flies, 2011 JBF Leadership Award Winner

“Start an edible school garden. Making school lunches more nutritious only gets us partway there. When kids follow food from the garden to the kitchen to the table, doing the work themselves, something amazing happens. They want to taste everything! By engaging their senses in the garden, students are effortlessly learning where food comes from, about the importance of stewardship of the land, and about the civilizing and humanizing effects of sitting and eating together at the table.”
—Alice Waters, 2011 JBF Leadership Award Winner

“One of the biggest changes we can all make is to start eating more fruits, vegetables, grains and pulses, and a little less meat and other animals products. That doesn’t mean no meat, or less flavorful meat, or less enjoyable meals. But it does mean recognizing that producing meat uses more natural resources than other kinds of foods and also eating too much isn’t the healthiest choice either.”
—Arlin Wasserman, Sodexo, JBF Leadership Awards Advisory Board

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This article originally appeared in the October/November 2011 issue of JBF Notes, the James Beard Foundation member newsletter. Don't miss out on future articles; become a member today!

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